Monday, October 17, 2011

When you lose someone, you lose a whole lot more...

When someone you love passes away you don't just lose someone you love.  You are not just mourning the loss of someone's presence or memory in your life. There are reasons that person was special to you when they were alive. They brought something to your life that isn't there anymore.  In some cases it is something you chose in that person to like or love-such as someone to share a confidence in or share a love of something with. There was some sort of camaraderie or something special.  It may be shared experiences that you could converse about or share in other ways.

With a family member or long time friend it could be those shared experiences-positive or negative that you could turn to each other about or with. You lose that shared love or dislike of something. But you also lose that aspect of your life that you will have to live without. For example, if you went to the ball game with the person every season or even heard stories of yesteryear of those days, but they aren't in the present anymore, it's a loss. You lose a lot more than a person.

In my parents, I have lost links to stories of my past of my family's past. These are links to part of who we are. We have lost chances to be able to ask or listen to them. In the loss of a friend from my high school years, I lost chances to continue a relationship with her as well as to have someone who was the only other one who knew our little secret code for sharing stories about guys or life experiences.  Granted, as long as I'm here, I can pass her memory to others and to those who loved her, but I lost the potential to share those in the same way with someone.

Sometimes the loss of a person can make us lose the connections to others in our lives.  They helped us stay connected to others who possess some shared history.  We might be losing a lifestyle or shared direction in life. There are so many losses to ponder.  It is something to assess in the meaning of all that goes with the person we lost. These are aspects of ourselves.

This is written not to intensify the focus negatively on what is lost when someone dies, but more to help one just focus on all that is lost.  Identifying some of these things might help explain some of the complexity of the feelings we don't understand or why things seem to pop up from no where from the murky inner pea soup thickness of grief and its process.  We don't necessarily have to dissect all the aspects but in identifying some, it may help one grow more fully in putting our lives together as we grow in our grief. Not only does the person we lost take on new form in the process of life, but so do we in this part of our own lives. It can help us understand ourselves more fully and live life more fully. The presence of these people were a gift in our lives. One of the best things we can do in their memory is to grow from having had their presence in our lives.

The key is being open and just let it take its course. These types of things take time-their own time. Be patient with it and yourself.

I wish you peace in your journey.

Please follow this blog through e-mail at the top right corner of this page, follow by liking our FB page .
You can also follow through Networked Blogs or Google Friend Connect on the right side panel of the page!

You may find a blank card with a beautiful picture at Lifescapes where you can design a sympathy card, or other design a note card with your own text to your own personal specifications.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Light a Cyber Memorial Candle

One way you can do a personal or shared memorial for a lost loved one is to light a candle on cyberspace. There are different places to do it.  Some of the candles last a few days and some are forever. I used them when people and companion animals were in the process of dying, when they were sick and after they had passed on. It can be very comforting. For the long lasting ones, I actually google the candles using a name and other unique information to see if they are still burning and find that they are. It is comforting to me. It is a place to go remember even in the middle of the night even just to focus on the memory or issue you are thinking about, when no one else might be there, or when you just want to be alone with it.

Some candle lighting web pages even have prayer requests where you can ask others to prayer for your particular situation. They all have their own uniqueness. Some are just for pets also. You can google any number of words or phrases such as "light a candle" or "memorial candle online" , any combination or add your own. You will find different websites to try out. Some or most will make it easy to send links of your candle to others. Some have whole pages you can dedicate to a person or cause that you can invite others to join in lighting candles with you. You will find something to suit your needs out there for sure!

Here are some of my favorites:

Small Miracles Foundation- Pregnancy Loss and Related

A very open minded site

Feel free to check back for I will probably add more in the future.  Also, let me know what you think in the comments below. If you have any thoughts or suggestions-whether it is more links or ideas how to make it more meaningful, please share. We are here to help each other. Feel free to share a personal experience!

I hope this day finds you more at peace than the day before.
Mary Ellen

You may find a blank card with a beautiful picture at Lifescapes where you can design a sympathy card, or other design a note card with your own text to your own personal specifications. 

Please follow this blog through e-mail at the top right corner of this page, follow by liking our FB page .
You can also follow through Networked Blogs or Google Friend Connect on the right side panel of the page!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Creating a Personal Shrine

While anyone is still in the major throes of the grieving process and even later when one is more at peace with his or her loss, it might be a good idea to create a small personal shrine for that person you had a relationship with. You can pick a spot in your living room (which is more public) or in a room, such as your bedroom, which is more private.  This all depends on what feels comfortable to you and your needs.

You can display photos, objects that somehow have meaning to that person or the relationship you shared. It could be a piece of artwork done by or of that person, mementos from things you did together-such as a pebble picked up walking on a beach, camping, some outing or perhaps a trip or afternoon spent together. Also, it can be a gift from that person. A hat, watch or item of clothing that the person wore can personalize it more.

You can put things that have religious meaning or reflect spirituality of either yours or your loved one's beliefs or practices. You can light candles or use the new LED or electric burning candles to set a mood when you feel a need to be comforted or closer to your lost loved one.

If the "shrine" is in a more prominent spot, it can be an area you use to share or discuss memories about that person or feelings with others.  It can be a way to share or trade memories which bring comfort and help one feel the presence of that person. If you have a private shrine, but feel comfortable sharing it with someone, you can use it to feel closer to that person as well as your lost loved one.

You can change things on it. Rearrange it and keep it fresh. Make it a place that is personal and comfortable to you.  As time goes on, you may feel the need to make it less prominent or to have fewer things there or adjust it somehow as you grow and feel more at peace in your grieving process. You may feel less need to have certain things there. Just go with your feelings.

In the loss of my dad, I feel more of a peace when I go hold or touch something that reminds me of him. I feel the loss and pain too, but it gives me a safe place to go to express my feelings, especially when the rest of the world might not seem to understand. This area can help you too at those times.

If you have made a personal memorial shrine for your loved one or know someone who has, please share some thoughts, insights, or things that you may have done that may help in reading this. Just write in the comments section below.

May this day find you more and more at peace.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Furry Companions can be Extremely Helpful with Grief...

As the title suggests, furry companions can be extremely helpful during the grief process. There are different approaches and aspects to this. Some people may already have a furry companion such as a dog, a cat, a rabbit or something smaller like a gerbil or hamster.   Having a familiar companion can be really helpful. Many animals do seem to have a sense of knowing when helping out their human companions is necessary and they lovingly step up to the task!

They can also provide purpose in the life of a grieving human such as making sure the companion  animal is fed, watered, exercised, clean and whatever the animal needs. It can also help keep the bereaved person grounded with life and earthly things-providing some balance with the shock or withdrawal from everyday life.

Bringing a new life into the life of the grieving person can also be helpful. It is not meant, by any means, to replace the loved one who has passed on, but more to provide a two-way companionship and new relationship to build upon. It is a great way to share some of that great capacity for love that one has demonstrated in his/her loss of a loved one in a positive way with another life. Not only does it help fill, not replace, some of the empty void or space in the bereaved person's life, it can help the person grow through the growing bond between the two and also the hope it helps create in showing that one's life can go on.

Of course one can buy an animal somewhere, but actually going to a rescue or shelter can add another dimension to the whole hope that is offered! It helps empower the bereaved to give hope to another life. In some cases, it is saving a life from being destroyed.  Many shelter or rescue animals are socialized, sweet and loving already and looking for hope as much as the bereaved. They, too, have their loss of a previous home too.

Then, there's the universal benefits of pets (companion animals) of the unconditional love they share with us. They listen and don't complain.  They will provide reassurance when no one else will and in ways others don't or can't.

My rabbits provided love and purpose for me through many different things, including deaths of family members and friends. When my mother and grandmother passed on, I named new bunnies after them. When my father passed away, ten years later, I named one after him. It turned out to be a girl, so she is Jamie, instead of James. It makes people and myself laugh when I explain it. It doesn't dishonor my dad. He would think it was funny.  It gave me a way to show love and honor to him, but Jamie allowed me to look at a small part of my life without my dad in a new way. She gives me new purpose and shows me that I still have more to do here myself on this earth and life is not over. I feel my dad around me too complaining playfully about the rabbit named after him is a girl.

I hope that this article is helpful in some way to you. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment boxes. If you have thoughts you would like to add to this, that would be really great also.  If you have suggestions for the blog or other people reading this, please share. I encourage it greatly.

I wish you peace in your journey today and always.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Anniversaries, Birthdays and Occasions that remind us...


With the Holiday Season approaching in the next few months, it is a good time to look at how one might deal with "firsts" and the years that follow. In other words, facing the first birthday, Christmas, wedding anniversary without, the anniversary of the the loss of your loved one or any other significant date can be extremely difficult to say the least. The subsequent years can be difficult also.

Those days remind of the gaping hole that has caused our very essence so much pain and inability to function.  It is so difficult to picture that occasion without the person there in some sense in the case of special days such as birthday. Our loved one most likely had been a big part of it.

Then there's the other side-the anniversary of  that person's death or the event that eventually lead to our loved one's death. For example, on a grander scale, this is like the date of 9/11 to Americans who were alive and old enough to have observed and remember the attacks that happened.  It took away people's security in what one felt was how their world is or was.  Every year there is discussion about remembering those who were lost, the innocence of the people and a country were lost, the pain the event caused and the reminders of it all as the anniversary approaches.  There is also discussion about how the world and a country has changed since that day, how we've coped-everything from the feelings of the people to how we will try to prevent this type of event from ever happening again.  There have been many changes from that self examination. I think most people know what those are and that is not really appropriate to list here.

In both the cases of positive anniversaries such as birthdays and the more negative anniversaries such as the day of the person's death, there are ways to look at things to make things easier.It is important, first of all, to take care of yourself.  Make things simpler! Perhaps if you can spend the day with a different loved one or friend it will make the day go more smoothly.

Keeping things simpler, asking others for help or accepting it if someone offers it, are good things to do. The first Christmas after my mother died, I had my father over to my place so he and the rest of the family wouldn't have to spend the holiday at the place we always spent it with my mother. All the right people were there, but there wasn't the constant reminder that she wasn't there. We talked about her a lot, but there was less pressure. It was very low key but very warm and loving. It gave us the most important part! This was what the holiday was really supposed to be about anyways!  It wasn't about the decorations or the presents, but rather "presence".

My father lost his own dad on Thanksgiving Day, before I was born. It was kind of a tough day on my father every year.  He would often work at work if asked or sit quietly. He would help with the Thanksgiving Dinner, but would often feel sick to his stomach, throw up or have diarrhea on that day. It was a strong trigger for him. Well on December 2nd, 1992 he suffered a stroke. It was a difficult recovery.  He did quite well though in the long run. The point in mentioning that was that on Thanksgiving 1993, he started having symptoms that appeared as if he was having a stroke.  In the long run, it turned out to be a panic attack or similar- perhaps PTSD.  He associated his stroke from the year before with his father's stroke, and being so close in time.  Here is a link to a post in my other blog telling the story of what happened.

As a result of that day, we stopped preparing Thanksgiving at my parent's house and started going out to eat.  It was great. The pressure of cooking was off of my mother and helped make it all much more pleasureable. The cost actually wasn't much more than that of preparing the dinner.  One thing that was a fringe benefit was that it helped set time limits on how long people would spend with us-such as a cousin of my mother's, my dad's friend and my maternal grandmother. It was as easy as picking up and dropping off people, without having to deal with lingering house guests who might wear out their welcome with my dad and his sensitivity involving the holiday.  He would still get some stomach issues, but they generally more at ease.

Something that people could do in dealing with negative or positive anniversaries is to not necessarily change everything you do on that day through the years, but follow your instinct. One can adjust or change certain traditions.  One could start a new tradition that somehow honors the memory of the person not there.

This issue will be addressed more in the future. I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, experiences or perhaps suggestions to be added to this in the comment section!  Please don't be afraid to share!

I hope this day finds you more and more at peace!

Mary Ellen

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Way to Feel Closer to those we have Lost...

In some regards, some people may just do this naturally anyway, but it doesn't hurt to have a reminder of an idea that reflects human nature and being connected to one we have lost.  When the comforting presence of someone we love is not tangible anymore, it can be quite disconcerting. One can feel lost, disoriented, not grounded. It is a very natural part of the grieving process. It is as if something magically made the person disappear and a support, something dependable or a pillar of one's life is just missing-gone. It is like having the rug pulled out from under you.

It is natural to "need" something tangible, just something to hold onto that was part of that person.  It reminds us that we are not "crazy", that this person existed and touched our lives in a special way.  Often people will hold onto a keepsake of the loved one we lost and perhaps carry it, wear it or stow it away somewhere as something to go to feel connected to the person and love that was shared with that lost loved one. This is the point of today's post.

Having something to connect to, to assure us that we had with that person is and was still real, is important.  When my mother died, I asked my dad if I could have a pendant that I had given her for mother's day a year or two before her passing.  It was a symbolic silhouette of a mother holding a child which was shaped into a heart.  It was one gift that I gave to my mother that had a lot of meaning to me to give to her and share my feelings of how important she was to me. I wore it daily for a long time. I would touch it when I missed her or felt uncomfortable about something in my life. It would assure me that the love I felt for and from her were real-still. I felt special having something she wore fairly close to her heart at times and a way that could keep her close to mine. It was tangible and the thought of it brought me warm feelings.  I was able to stop wearing it regularly after a while because at some point, I felt her in my heart and didn't need to hold onto something physical or concrete anymore.

A woman, whom I rented a room from when I was in school, had done a similar thing in a bigger way. She had a middle-school age son who had been killed by a drunk driver seven years before I moved in there.   She had kept his room exactly as it was the last time it was the last time he had been in there.  She said I could look, but not touch.  I didn't really go in, but I did peek at it in amazement.  I wouldn't call it a shrine to him, so much as a way for her to hold on to him as long as she could. The room was very neat, with posters of bygone sports figures, pop musicians and the latest pretty and famous females of that time period when he died.  It was like stepping back in time.  While I was still living in that house, her youngest son was about to graduate high school  and although I can't be sure what her exact thoughts or feelings were, it appeared that she had decided she could move on to a different phase.  By that time, the son that she lost would have been on his own or in college. The youngest son was getting ready to leave home within a few months for college and somehow it appeared to be okay to let her "children" move on into a different stage of their lives and what would be a new stage for her too.  It seemed okay to not have to hold onto to the older brother of her youngest son anymore. She could let them both go on. and she could have her empty nest. It was comfortable for her.

An elderly gentleman, whom I brought Meals-on-Wheels to everyday, kept his house decorated for Christmas indoors all year round.  It seemed unusual, but I felt that it was his life.  As time went by, little by little, I would get bits of the story behind it. His wife had died during the Christmas Holiday season suddenly, one year and it was his way of being loyal to her memory.  He expressed that it was the way he felt comfortable and not alone in his home.  He was safe, seemed to be living in reality, but it made him comfortable. 

My father kept my mother's plants going for a long time before I took them from him when he moved out of state. He didn't care about those houseplants before, but she had a green thumb and seemed to have a magic with them that was all hers. It helped keep her by him. I've seen a boy wear his grandfather's special watch, a woman wear a small glass vial pendant with some of a loved one's ashes in them, and a dog sleep in the area of his owner that passed away. There are many ways that people can feel connected to a loved one they've lost during times of the grieving process as we grow and "process" what has happened.

We all can let go of those ways or not have as tight a hold on some of these things, as we adjust and learn that we won't always need something physical to know that the special love that was there existed and still does! We learn that we do and can carry it in our hearts, always.

I wish that each day brings you peace and comfort in your life.

Mary Ellen

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Silver Lining of Grief...

It is said that in every dark cloud there is a silver lining. Grief can feel like a big storm cloud looming over us as we try to go about our daily lives. Like a thunderstorm or tornado, one never knows when that big surge of emotion or pain is going well up and surge out into the surface of the outer being.  When the cloud hangs over constantly it can wear one down waiting for it to come and just be over with. Unfortunately that is part of the process.  It does get better and the clouds clear and the warm sun does come. A bright side of the storm is that once it comes, it can help one feel a bit drained and refreshed at the same.

The most beautiful part of the storm cloud of grief is that there is a silver lining in it at all times, although it might not really feel like it at the same time. Just like there are two sides of a coin, the silver lining is the other side of that same entity in cloud, except it is just a positive side.  One would not feel grief or the pain of it if there wasn't something beautiful there in the first place. There are several things there actually. The greatest is having experienced so much love and something special in one's life shared with that loved one you've lost, that you can feel so much pain in that void or loss.  If there was little there, you wouldn't have had the special gift of the joy of spending time or sharing something special with that person and you wouldn't feel that void now.

Try to remember what was special in the relationship and be thankful for what was so special about it. It was a gift. Not everyone gets to experience it so fully. The pain is just a flip side of a special love and joy which will live on in you and the others that experienced the beauty of being with that.

May you be at peace. With the pain, please remember: This too shall pass!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Growing from Grief can help in other situations (pets and humans involved in this post).

This post is a personal story, hopefully it will help you.
When my father was dying, I felt like taking him off of all the machines he was hooked up to and all of the 13 IVs he was hooked up to was murdering him. It took almost a week to make the decision with my brothers. I still wasn't one hundred percent sure when we did it, but I did know he would be hooked up to some IVs and attached to at least two machines to be kept alive if he did "get better", as we phrased it with the doctors and palliative care team.  That was part of what made me think that removing all the things that were keeping my dad alive was maybe the right choice. 

The moments he was aware of our presence and I was able to communicate with him and get some limited, but appropriate responses from him were usually when his pain meds wore off and he was in tremendous pain. Seeing his extreme discomfort at those moments was interesting and new to me. He was one that wouldn't show his pain. Kind of an old New England puritanical type of thing I believe. I did treasure those lucid moments he was in extreme pain because I could see him in his eyes and communicate briefly with him before I would go get the nurse to inject more pain meds.

Life is precious to me. The quality of someone's life or of any creature's life is precious to me.  I love my companion animals as well.  Just a few days ago, I lost an elderly companion animal, a ten year old beautiful black rabbit, named Salem, who had a large inoperable cancerous tumor. Through all her years, she showed an endurance and strength that I rarely saw in other rabbits, never mind many humans or other creatures.  She was a fighter also. I could tell she was uncomfortable just by the way she would position her self and struggle. I couldn't bring myself to have her put to sleep like the vet recommended.  I did obtain pain meds from the vet though. 

The pain meds did seem to, at moments, give Salem some wherewithal to go after bits of fresh hay, greens and oatmeal we would leave for her at different times.  She always loved to eat and would nibble at those moments of feeling good from the meds.  She didn't have the stamina to do it for long though. I was very happy to see her enjoying some last few times of enjoying some of her favorite treats. She was comfortable. She wasn't the most affectionate rabbit, but was always appreciative of her food! She let us share with her some of those moments. She lasted a few days-longer than we or the vet thought. She showed me it was all the right decision with both. She was always that fighter. Like my dad.

My dad helped show what to do with Salem in the journey of the last days of her life.  Salem showed me that I helped my dad die a death of dignity, living his few last days with his family near, instead of potentially living hooked up to machines without the quality of life that would have meant something to the stubborn, ornery, puritanical wanting-to-be independent man that was my father.  He would have hated that life on machines, but he also needed to die on his own and his way-he took his last breaths on his own and was made extremely comfortable by the hospital staff. We were able to say "good-bye" and let him know we loved him. He was able to hear us and breathe on his own for his last breaths-nautrally.  He looked like my dad and not a creature hooked up to all kinds of gizmos (like in an experiment). It was loving and peaceful.

Having my dad on those machines and IV meds for the brief time he was gave us the beautiful gift of being able to say good-bye.  Keeping him on them would be a different story.  Salem and my dad passed from this earth on their own terms and peacefully, knowing they were loved.  Salem helped reassure me of their peace, while my dad helped reassure me of what was right for Salem and us.

I will miss them both, but they both had dignity.  I am finding that in my own personal grieving process that I am growing.  I still feel pain, but I am growing.

I thought that sharing this may be helpful for someone some time in their grief journey.
Thank you for joining me.
May you find peace in your journey.

P.S. As a little bonus I am adding a link to an article that may be helpful to someone who is losing their pet/companion animal. I didn't do everything it said, but I found comfort in some of the things it said.
Helping a dying animal.
Remember everyone's grieving and experience in this journey of life are individual and must be treated like that for ourselves and others.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Saying "No" is Taking Care of Yourself...

Over the past few days, I have been feeling down. I got started on an important post, but it was getting too painful to finish it. It was reminding me too much of different issues with the death of my father, which took place in May.  Too many painful feelings were rising to the top. I felt like bawling and was very grouchy to my husband, brother and other people during the day. I have a lot going on in my mind.

Maybe the numbness is starting to wear off. I felt like crying several times.  I kept pushing myself to write the darn post and couldn't. Well I tried to continue on it. I was becoming unsure of the content. It didn't flow out. Then I decided that if I didn't take care of myself, that post was not going to be good for anyone else. It wasn't timely and there was no major rush to get that particular topic covered. I decided to say "no" and take the day to feel what I needed to feel.  I need to process this, but not let it seep into things in my life and hurt them. So, I gave myself a break.

Presently, I am still feeling these feelings, but "This too shall pass".  I am able to write this though and to let you know that not only is it okay to take a breather in some way, it is important and necessary.  It is a good time to perhaps let someone do something nice for you, invite them to, or perhaps even do something nice for someone else. Just let it be something that is not going to distract you or hurt you (or someone else) in a negative way. Sometimes we can't pinpoint, but just trust your gut instincts.

Or perhaps you need to be by yourself.  Perhaps you can take a walk or a drive somewhere that is conducive to thinking or letting your mind wander. Perhaps going to a place you used to spend time with your loved one may be a way to help process the feelings.

Perhaps you  can spend time with a mutual friend of your loved one that you lost, who may be dealing with the grief process also. Go out and do something together. You don't necessarily have to focus on the lost loved one or if it's comforting, then do talk about the person. It could be helpful either way in the whole process.

What is important and healthy is that you give yourself permission to do this. The pain or feelings will fester and will gnaw at you otherwise and you will get stuck. It is important to go through the process so that you can move on and grow in life. It will help you to not only help yourself, but others.

May you find and be at peace.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Reminders. That's it. Something jumps out at you whether it's a physical object, a person, something someone says- a certain phrase in print, out of your own mouth or of someone else, a day on the calendar.  You could be going along fine or okay in a day and there it is-that reminder. It puts you and your whole day to a halt. Something that you associate with that loss of a loved one. It hits you that this person isn't here any more.  At times these reminders, in my own experience, make me feel terrible or cringe or want to cry. Sometimes these reminders actually have brought me comfort.

It's strange, you don't know how you'll respond. There's such a mix of emotions and thoughts among other things lurking below the surface, some stuff you don't even know might be there. Sometimes it's actually pleasant sometimes it's painful or somewhere in between.  What's difficult is that you can't always respond the way you may want to because perhaps of people you are with or you are in some public place.

It's important to process what is coming up or out, but not always easy to be able to do it in the situation you are in.  If it's possible, perhaps you can go to a different place for a moment-such as a rest room and go in a stall. If you can call a friend or write it down somewhere.  Try to politely excuse yourself.  Or if you are not with someone else or even if you are-sometimes you just have to change the scenery-take a walk, water a plant. If you are at work, perhaps a walk to the copier or some other place for a moment where you can get away.

Try to let some of the moments pass, if you can, in a not so comfortable situation. Then go write them down, think about them, go visit or call a friend or counselor. Have an outlet-someone you trust.  It's all part of the process. If the feeling that comes up is negative or positive or confusing-it's all just part of the process. It's a journey. It's all a part of the journey. Just remember, as with everything, this too shall pass.

I wish you comfort and peace!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Understanding Guilt While Grieving...

This is another topic that will get more time in future posts.Guilt in many different forms can affect our grieving process.  There is the type where we think we didn't do enough for the person at many stages in life, that a relationship was left on bad terms, that a person didn't say what they wanted to say to a person, that one didn't help the person enough somehow to prevent them from dying among other things. There are too many ways to list here.

When I was a girl of about 10 or 11 years old, I was extremely and painfully shy. It was also an age where, to some extent, I was becoming more physically aware of myself- like some girls who had developed early and seemed to be more popular, etc. (Now I am glad I didn't develop early. I couldn't have coped well with the type of attention I might have received if I did.) There was a very kind male custodian in the grammar school I was attending  who was very kind to me.  He would give me cupcakes, apples, and little gifts of kindness after school. (Nowadays, people should be more cautious of this type of behavior) and was just being genuinely kind. He would talk a little bit about his family and ask about my brothers and so forth. At the time, he was one of the few people I thought was being kind to me and treated me nice.  I would help out after school by holding the doors as a "safety patrol" in a bright orange vest provided by the school. And I also would help the teacher by arranging artwork and other student projects in a glass showcase after school. (Little did I realize the teacher was probably trying to give me a positive role with the showcase jobs and the safety patrol job. I liked them because I didn't have to talk too much.). All this would give the custodian many opportunities to just say a few kind words to me and encourage me. I liked it a lot.

One day, I was having a difficult time opening up the sliding door of the showcase. The custodian came over to assist me and opened the case with a bit of effort. He was in maybe his fifties. The next day I went into school and he wasn't there. The school had called my father in to come talk to me.  My dad and my teacher told me that the custodian had died from a heart attack. I guess they felt that I would have perhaps felt I would have felt guilty because of the extra "effort" he put into opening the showcase for me that perhaps I thought had caused it. This pre-emptive action the school took probably did prevent my thoughts going in that direction.  And to this day, I am thankful for the kindness of that man who did put in a little extra to making the day brighter for a young shy girl because he had a very good heart!

Guilt, I beleive, hits us, in some cases, because we feel so powerless over the death of a loved one.  It's a manifestation of the powerlessness and a way we are trying to come to terms with it.  The sister of a friend of mine, who was killed in a sudden and violent way,  expressed to me that she felt so guilty about the terms she had left her relationship with her brother on during the last time he visited her. Her brother was a very kind person, but enjoyed a very bohemian lifestyle which didn't always make him one to follow through on domestic chores.  He stayed at his sister's place because he lived way out of state. She was extremely distraught over the fact that she had asked him to do the dishes (a big pile from him mainly) before she left for work.  When she came back, the dishes weren't done even though he had promised.  They had an argument over it and he left without the usual "good-byes" and "I Love Yous". Just about a week later she had heard about his death, which happened in a violent, sudden way and making national news at the time. 

A few months later, she expressed to me how much she just wished she said nothing about the dishes, and that they just would've parted on positive terms.  The argument she had with him was one most siblings would probably have had normally and then it would've blown over not having been a big deal the next time she saw him.  Instead, when you throw in the new circumstance that he's dead and never going to see him again, it makes it the last time she saw him and that it didn't end positively without chance for reconciliation in person.  This was it- there would be no in-person contact again. This is what was really hitting her. She didn't get the chance to tell him she loved him, although she told him just about every other time and he knew she loved him. She did seem a bit relieved when I told her that I would've probably had the same argument with my brothers and that it's normal. She did nothing wrong. The good thing about time and/or talking with someone who is not feeling the intense emotions at the moment is that it can help the person who is grieving to see things in a better perspective. Or at least it helps plant the seed to see it in a more realistic light. It takes and requires that time that should be given to it.

I felt guilty in deciding to remove life support from my dad even though he was hooked up to thirteen IVs and several machines in the ICU with most vital organs going into failure. I felt like I was murdering him- guilt, guilt, guilt.  The last time I saw him before his emergency admission to the hospital, he was throwing a tantrum in a restaurant and threw his cane in the air and it hit the floor. He was swinging it too. I was trying to help him to the bathroom and he was stubborn, proud and didn't want any help, especially mine. He had some dementia and always was proud and Mr.Independent. I felt angry and upset and didn't feel like I could be patient with him to visit him a next day while I was visiting  several states away from where I live. If  he had lived, I probably still would have felt I did the right thing in not going to see him the next day because I also didn't want to keep having negative interactions with him, but because of the circumstances and getting home just a couple of days before the call that made me go all the way back to see him before he might die, I ended up feeling awful about the last voluntary time he saw me. I am still dealing with it now because it was only a few short months ago. Even though in the ICU I told him I loved him, I still feel bad because I didn't go see him again before that.

With time, I know I will be at peace with it.  It will take the time and bearing going through the process. I was generally powerless over his medical condition in making the decision to pull life support and probably did the right thing.  I just have to process it all.

People feel guilty for not visiting in the hospital the day a person dies, even though they visited every other day before!  I have heard it my life through. In much of my reading, I've come across people stating that they are waiting so they can die without their loved ones present so as not to put them through the pain of experiencing it. Also, it may take a lot of energy to put on a brave front for their loved ones who are visiting, even if they are not very responsive!  They can finally face dying themselves and have that peace to be able to face it. In a sense, they may be self-concious about doing it in front of everyone.  Dying is a very personal and individual experience for the person going through it. They may not wish to die in front of a group of people, even though they love those people no less. I will touch upon this in the future, but wanted to include it to help people maybe think of that aspect in a new perspective.

I hope this is helpful to you in some way. I wish you peace and comfort in your journey.
Mary Ellen

You are always welcome to comment on this in any way as long as its polite and respectful of others. I welcome your feedback, comments, questions.

Please follow this blog on Facebook by hitting like. Your names can't be seen by others. You are also welcome to comment or "converse" there.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Your loss is just as real when you lose a pet,..

To start, I will say that there will be more than one post on this.  Dealing with the loss of a pet can actually be more difficult that dealing with the loss of a human being loved one.

The beauty of being in a relationship with a companion animal is the pure and unconditional love that is shared between a person and their pet. We can be ourselves without fear of being judged!  There generally isn't risk in showing our emotions with this loving creature. This reminds me of the saying that goes something to the effect of, "Try to be the person that your dog already thinks you are". Our pets treat us as if we can do no wrong.

One of the major down sides of dealing with the death of one of these extremely loving and pure creatures, other than feeling the grief, is that most of the world won't take your loss as seriously as they would if you lost a human being.  My father used to talk about how when our dog, Penny, had passed away that it saddened him as if the dog was one of his own children. It was the first time I ever saw him cry. I think it may have been safer in society to cry over the dog.  In more recent years, I used to feel insulted that my father would compare his love for the dog to his love for us, his children.   As I thought about it though, I can understand how this dog became such an important part of his life.

I used to work with a woman, who took the day off when one of her dogs of many years passed away. She didn't take days off from work without notice, but she did this particular day. The boss treated her as if she was just trying to get a day off and snubbed the feelings publicly of this person upon her return to work. My co-worker confided to me that she just wouldn't have been in any shape to work.  I personally think she did the right thing. 

I have several house rabbit companions. When I have lost them to death, I usually am distraught. The relationships I have developed with them are real. They are not fake. We interact, we play, tease each other lovingly, comfort each other, cuddle, show disapproval with some things (not getting their way for example), among other things. They care for us. We care for them. When they are gone, it is a major loss.

The working world and other people in the world might not always understand. I have had people tease me asking me if they can have the rabbit for dinner after it's dead. I don't think they are trying to be cruel, even though it hurts at that point, they just don't understand. If the person is someone who you feel is insensitive much of the time in other situations, I would just not discuss it with them.  If the person who says it is otherwise not a negative or insensitive person, they probably just don't understand. I suggest you politely say that you are feeling deep grief and loss, even if they don't understand why, perhaps they will respect your pain and needs for sensitivity to your feelings.

Your feelings are real and you should follow through with the grieving process with your pet as much as you should with the loss of a human loved one. Nurture yourself and feel everything. Validate your feelings. They are real and are to be taken seriously. The rest of the world might not understand, but there are a lot of people who will. Just be careful to be selective whom you share with.  Love yourself and take care of yourself.  It's important.

May you find peace,
Mary Ellen

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Simple Inexpensive Way to Remember A Loved One that Benefits Others!

There are many things one can do to remember a loved one we have lost.  It is not always within a manageable amount of money to do something we may want to do such as set up a scholarship fund or something else that costs a lot.

A former client of mine was on a fixed income due to having multiple sclerosis. She was devastated by the loss of her mother.  When she found out that we had both lost our mothers, she suggested something that one could do at any time.  It's simple and doesn't cost a lot of money.

Donate a book to the library. This is not where you buy a book, but you donate a small amount of money such as $15.00 or more for the library to purchase a book.  You can suggest the topics or type of book and they will purchase the book and put a sticker in the inside cover which states that the "book was donated in memory of  _____(fill in loved one's name here)____________" . 

You can suggest or stipulate the topic. This could honor something that your loved one like to do- crafts, bird-watching, some type of sport, gardening, etc..  It could also be something that you liked to do with that person. It could deal with a health problem the loved one dealt with. Perhaps it could be a topic that addresses a problem a person dealt with such as alcoholism, depression, being a single parent. The choice of topics personalizes it for you and your loved one.  The topic continues the person's spirit by sharing the love of something your loved one did or enjoyed with others. It could be helping people deal with something that the deceased had struggled with and carries a positive legacy in that way. It could be a way of sharing the memory of things that you did with your loved one which was special.

It helps you, who is grieving, to move and grow in your grief and share something special or set something right with the world that you felt needed to be done. It doesn't cost much and benefits users of that book and community for a long time to come.  In that regard, it multiplies and expands the legacy of your loved one in a quiet way but steadfast way.

I hope that this thought is helpful to you and shows you that you are not powerless in your grief.   There are simple things that you can do to help yourself, help create and share the legacy of your loved one and help the world/other people in some way!

I hope that you find peace in your day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Taking Care of Yourself Is Important....

Hello there,

The grieving process can take so much out of an individual. We are so drained and consumed by the loss. It is an injury not just to one's heart and emotions, but it hurts our bodies and well-being on other physical/emotional planes. When my mom died, I stayed in bed the first day. I couldn't take phone calls.  It was so difficult to talk to people. When my dad died this last May (3 months ago) as of this writing, I was drained from the period of staying with him in the hospital for several days and having made the decision with my brothers of removing life support and then facing his death. We went to his place and "crashed out asleep". There was nothing left in me. My brothers did the same thing.

Going on afterward isn't easy either.  I had sleepless nights and did countless hours of distraction of silly things. Mind-numbing things like old TV shows or movies on the computer or a DVD. It took no energy. That was what I did. I certainly wasn't eating right. When my mom died I overate. When my dad died, I just didn't eat right-differently each day. In normal everyday life, I made somewhat of a concious effort to eat healthy, take vitamins, sleep so many hours, be physically active to some degree. It's been out the window.

It has made me feel worse.  After my dad's second wife died, he lost a lot of weight. He looked unhealthy. When a good friend of ours was killed in a violent way, his mother (usually very trim) filled out a bit. She said normally she tried to watch things, but wasn't after that. After a couple of years she got back on track, but she allowed herself some flexibility. She was too drained.

A woman I used to work with lost her father and had taken up smoking after having been smoke-free for ten years. She hated herself for it, but said it was the only comforting thing she had.

It hits people in different ways. It is very important to take care of yourself. You can look at it in different ways.  If you broke your leg or suffered a physical injury or were recovering from pneumonia, for example, you would need to rest, perhaps get physical therapy (depending on the issue) or go through a course of medical care. The key word there is "care". You need to care for yourself, as well as don't refuse help from others. If someone offers you a meal, or help with something such as fielding phone calls, taking you to an appointment, grocery shopping, doing your laundry, doing some house work, watching your kids (taking them out to a movie or something), it might not be a bad idea to take them up on it.  If you have the chore of making arrangements for the funeral or other tasks, perhaps it would be a great help to enlist the aid of  a friend or even clergy person (someone who can help that you trust) to go with you or to assist you. 

Sometimes people don't know what to do but want to help.  Sometimes I didn't know what I wanted or needed, but other times I did.  Sometimes asking someone to do your dishes or help pick out an outfit or whatever they may be good at can be a big relief.

On the physical side, don't skip meals, try to eat healthy well-rounded one meals 3 times a day. Try to go to bed and wake up at regular hours. Even if you can't do it all the time, making the effort is important. If you physically don't take care of yourself, you will feel worse.  Taking care of yourself physically can help make a big difference!  Without nuture, your injury will make your body and well-being landslide down and further much more quickly.  Also, another way to look at this is that you might want to question if your loved one would want to see you like this.  They probably wouldn't want to see you neglect yourself.

Simple things you can do to start are to take your vitamins, eat healthier regularly, try to force yourself to have a regular bedtime sleep/wake time schedule. I couldn't get the sleep/wake thing down at first, but now I'm getting better with it. Don't beat yourself up if it's not working at first. Eventually it will. Just keep trying.

This is especially a time to take care of yourself. You are important. 

Be in peace,

Mary Ellen

Monday, August 22, 2011

Remembering your Loved One in A Special Way....

Hello there,

I don't have to tell you that dealing with grief is not easy. For something positive to think about, there are many ways you can celebrate the life of your loved one.  It can help one in moving through and processing their grief in a positive way. There is no wrong time or way. You just have to be ready. When my dad died, I lit candles that I bought for the occasion, put out a cross (the symbol of his religious faith and mine, but you can use what is meaningful to you-it doesn't have to be religious), a few of his possessions that seemed to represent him. I prayed a bit. I just thought about him too. This was all done at his place a day or two after he passed away. It was a spur of the moment thing.  It felt okay at that time. I didn't have much money and was staying at his place out of state. 

I've done little personal ceremonies for the loss of pets in my life. I've painted stones and objects in memory of my mom and grandmother.  I've lit cyber-candles. Once, I wrote a letter to the editor that appeared on the one year anniversary date of my mother's death. I was stirred by an article I saw about a drug treatment using hormones that strongly contributed to the cause of my mother's death. I let all my anger into that letter. It was quite wordy and ended up needing lots of editing, but I felt so determined to write to have some control over and to fight what caused my mother to die.  It felt so good, I kind of said, "This one's for you mom!".  It did get published. Several women told me they stopped taking the drug (one should always consult a doctor or get second opinions before doing that though!) or at least questioned it with their doctors. It felt good.  Perhaps it helped prevent some other deaths.

You can contribute to a group or organization that was meaningful to your loved one, you can plant a tree, you can volunteer doing something or helping someone meaningful to your loved one. Any of these things can help. You can use any of these ideas or come up with your own. You can do it when it feels right. Even planning it can be helpful. Coming up with the ideas can be meaningful.  It may help you think of the more pleasant memories of that person and how you are helping to keep the memory, the life, the legacy of that person going.  You can do something with others or by yourself. You can do several things, a little, one thing or nothing. It's all okay.

If, perhaps, you had mixed feelings or left things on a sour note when you last saw the person, or perhaps if you didn't have the best relationship with the person it is okay to put it off if you decide to do anything. This is supposed to be helpful to you. It is important for you. When and if you are ready, you can do it in your own way. Something may come to you. It may help you move on easier or help put negativity in proper perspective. This will be discussed more.

When you are grieving, there is a lot to "digest" and it has to be done in its own time. You have to do it in your own way. Make it meaningful to you. 

I will discuss more of these types of things with you. There are enough thoughts here for you to think about, discuss or share. I hope this was helpful or meaningful.

If you have any thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions-please share them.

May you be in peace,
Mary Ellen

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How long does it take to "heal"?

Hello there,

When my mother was dying she received Hospice care and we, her survivors, had the option of receiving free-to-us bereavement counseling for the 13 months after her death. During the process of her dying and after she passed away, we were told that it takes approximately a year to heal or accept the death and go through the stages.

In future post, I will discuss what various people and experts have stated these stages are. In this post, I am addressing the fact that I don't think we really heal. Don't let this make you think it's hopeless. It's more like there is less severe pain as time goes on and we develop acceptance and coping skills.  As I like to tell people and have needed reminding myself of is that without pain from the loss of a loved one it would mean that there wasn't anything positive in our relationship with that person.

From my own experience, as well as having spoken with and observed others in the grief process, I would say that perhaps the average time it may take to reach a healthy level of acceptance to make major decisions and become more in living one's own life more fully again is perhaps that 12 month period that Hospice mentioned to me 10 years ago.  But on the other hand, there are many factors that determine that. I think it took me about those 12 months to accept my mother's death. I was actively participating in the bereavement counseling, which was extremely helpful. But, watching my father was a different story.

He refused the counseling, dated a woman who chased him and called him after reading about my mother's death in the obituary, eventually in about 4 months sold his house, moved out of state and started chasing after other women to marry. There were other odd behaviors. My brothers, other family members and I thought he had "gone crazy" and wondered if he even loved my mother. Later, he did marry a woman about a year after my mother's death. That is a whole other story for another time.

This woman got sick and passed away about 3 1/2 years later.  My father then was not only dealing with the loss of that wife, but started to feel all the pain of the loss of my mother at that time too. He had run away from dealing with the loss of my mom in every way he could.  It caught up with him.

I had a teacher in high school who had left an administrative position to teach. The story was that he had to take time off because his mother had died years before, but he didn't take the time to grieve. He didn't have the coping skills and then had to take time off to do that. He talked about this very personal thing in a creative writing class he was teaching and shared how creative writing helped in his grieving process.

There are different ways of coping and different things that can complicate the grieving process such as guilt, unfinished business, mixed emotions, stressed relationships with that person. These are all things that can complicate the process, but once dealt with can make a major difference in one's own personal growth and continued relationship with that person and their memory as well. When I say "continued relationship", I believe we do have a continued relationship in many ways-our perceptions of them, their actions, their memories, thoughts and feelings about them. I also still "visit" with my mom in dreams. 

We don't just "heal" up and put people behind us.  We grow from them being in our lives when they physically existed with us and within their memory living within us.  It takes time on an individual basis for each person.

Thank you for joining me.
I hope that you will share your thoughts, questions, experiences and comments here.
In Peace,
Mary Ellen

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Healthy Grieving For Atheists

Although I find comfort in belief in something spiritual beyond myself, I know that not all people believe in God in some form. Some people are agnostic, some are atheists.  They need to be able to grieve in a healthy way and it must be harder to find some others and resources to be able to do that. I came across an article today that discusses that. It is here: new group for non-believers helps atheists grieve.

No matter what you believe. It is important to be able to express and deal with the loss of a loved one in a healthy way.  Grieving is a process that one must go through to be able to move on. The loss of a loved one is a catastrophic experience to any human being. Dealing with it takes time, but also people who can understand or at least accept how you feel- to feel validated. If  someone starts preaching about their own religious beliefs to someone who doesn't believe it isn't going to help either party feel good or any better. It is important to accept and validate differences if you are grieving or trying to help someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one.

It is one of those times when people have to agree to disagree and try to give comfort about how difficult it is for that person to be dealing with the loss. 
I will explore this more in future posts.
I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, suggestions in the comment section below. We can all help each other.
Peace to all

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Creating your own Memorial/ Prayer Photo Card -high quality, low cost!

Hello there,
I wanted to share something that I did when planning the memorial service for my father last month. We weren't going through a regular funeral home because of the expense and because his cremated remains were being brought back from out of state by my brother. My father wanted things to be simple and inexpensive.

When it came to the memorial prayer cards, I looked on-line and wasn't completely happy with what I saw, or if I did do see something, the cost was astronomical. I wanted something with his picture on it, and a bit more personalized. After several days of searching and looking at and Zazzle on line, I didn't see any products offered that fit the bill for me.  There were some of the prayer cards on  Zazzle, but they were too lacy and flowery looking for my dad. It did start me thinking that I could create my own.

After trying to figure things out, I used a business card template turned on its side. Zazzle offers a "chubby size" card which made the card a bit bigger than the average business card template and made it about the average size of a regular prayer card.  I was able to put his photo on it and personalize it the way I wanted it.
It cost about $30.00 (US Dollars) plus a little more for shipping for 100 cards.  It was printed on both sides and came out very pleasing to this finicky customer.  This was about fifty dollars less than what I found somewhat similar on-line with photos of the person, etc.

Zazzle also offers several different types of paper, grades of paper, color, and the like. I found something that they call "indestructible" which is waterproof, creaseproof, ect.  I tested all this myself when I received the order.  Their shipping was fast also!  They have different types of shipping. I was a bit nervous about getting them on time for the service. My worry was for nothing.

If you are thinking of creating you own, you try it on Zazzle yourself or you can try my template at this link... memorial prayer card .  You can change the photos, the poem, prayer, text, etc.  I felt wonderful doing something of my own for my father.  He was the type that appreciated something that I did myself for him rather than something commercial. I liked this because it was something I was able to create, but it came out professional looking. It is also one of a kind in design, not someone else's work.  Even if this were someone else's work, I would have still had a major part in the design that I wanted to achieve.

I hope this information is helpful to you. It actually gave me a warm feeling to think that my dad may have been looking at me from above trying to do something a little extra special and personal in his memory.

Thanks for reading this and pass on the info if you know someone who is planning a service. It is difficult enough to find the strength and time to go through planning and getting a service together. It is draining.  I thought that by sharing this that it might help someone else going through this.

Blessings to you,
Mary Ellen