Directing Your Own Story: Why Your Dying Is Your Business

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Dying is not a passive event – at least not until you are no longer able to mentally engage with with those around you.

Your life is like a storybook. It’s important to look back on your life and consider what’s been significant. What have been the highlights? The struggles? The surprises? It’s also important to look ahead and consider how your last chapter on earth might unfold in a direction that you prefer. As such, you need to take the author’s pen. Continue reading →

The Grumpy, Old Lady

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They overshot their seat number on the plane and had to make their way back down the aisle in the airplane, against oncoming traffic: a mom, a dad, a child and an uncle.

As they worked their way back to row 13, a lady stood in their way. She had to move back a touch for them to get by. It was a tight fit. The family maneuvered their way into the seats. She glared at them. Continue reading →

Following the Bunny Prints

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When we were young, my first wife Pam used to cut out bunny footprints for Easter. When the kids would wake up early Sunday morning, the bunny prints would lead the way to the Easter baskets and treats. The “Easter Bunny” had been in our home the night before and had hidden all those little chocolates all over the house.

Keeara, our oldest daughter, does the same thing each Easter with her children.  This year, Erica and I got to witness our grandchildren running excitedly all over the house, gathering up their treasures. Continue reading →

Walk, Run or Pump

100-0039_IMG-1024x768An important approach to grief work is exercise. There are amazing by-products from exercise that support a healthy grief journey.

Our bodies are amazingly made and work together in ways that help healing take place, given the chance.

You will likely feel weak when you are grieving, especially in the days following the death of a loved one or friend. This is a normal reaction to missing someone important in your life. You are trying to figure out the emotional detachment toward a person who is no longer present. It’s not an easy journey and affects not just your spirit but your body as well.

With proper diet, adding the nutrition that you need, a disciplined exercise regime can help you in your grief journey as well.

Research shows that exercise helps you to sort out your emotions more effectively, to think more clearly, to improve your self-regard, and to help you mix back into society more quickly. If you form this good habit forever, you will of course become physically fit in addition to all the other benefits.

When I went through the loss of my first wife, my kinesiologist-daughter told me to get out and exercise. I was shocked at the difference it made in my attitude and ability to deal with the intense grief I was feeling.

What about you? When you are going through loss and see what happens – why not try to walk, run or pump? You may be surprised at the results. No better time to start than as the calendar turns to 2015.

 

Why Patterns Count in Loss

pattern-of-rocks-1024x685Our daughter, Keeara, wanted to re-cover the valances in both her kitchen and living room. Erica and I offered to help. As the two of them stood there discussing the fabric they would purchase at the store, the most common word I kept hearing was “pattern”. Would the patterns match up? Would they flow into the next section if necessary?  Could you match the patterns once cut so that they looked good? (I personally thought that a solid color would be the easiest, but said nothing – besides, I was to busy running after the grandchildren.)

We all develop patterns in our lives that need to be acknowledged and understood in our grief and loss work. As we transition through the variety of losses in our lives, we develop both helpful and unhelpful patterns of coping.  All of us have heard the phrase, “Why does he keep doing the same thing over again?  Did she not learn from her mistakes?”

Some people do pick up unhealthy patterns from past experiences or from their family of origin. Unless they are willing to take note and take responsibility for these patterns, history will repeat itself. But they don’t have to…

Examining patterns of how we have transitioned in the past, both good and bad, helps us to transition better in the present and in the future.  In some cases, we may have transitioned really well – these are tools that we need to keep. But when we continually experience difficulty during our transitional points, we need ask ourselves some questions and evaluate why that is. In some cases, we may need help to examine those patterns.

Do our transitional loss patterns match up with the outcomes we had hoped for? Find a friend and get some honest, authentic feedback. It’s always hard to admit that we have work to do in our lives, but we all do. Those who are vulnerable and who are willing to grow in challenging areas of their lives will turn the corner and be more free to live life fully.

Making Healthy Choices

healthy-food-817x1024What food you choose to put into your body affects your health.

The emotional turmoil of grief makes you vulnerable in a variety of ways. Why not ask another person to be your grief friend? Someone who can be honest with you about the decisions that you make in your volatile state?

What you choose to make a part of your grief journey is important as it will affect your emotional health and impact your future growth.

Choices…

I have counseled many people who have made poor choices during their grief journey, which have resulted in painful consequences.

Bad habits can quickly turn into unhealthy decisions.  People say, “Wow, has that person ever changed. I have never known him/her to be that way or behave in that manner.”  Grief can be intense and move us in directions that lead to unhealthy consequences.

Connor, my grandson, can either have healthy snacks or ones that aren’t as good for his growing body.  His mom decides to give him good stuff to eat. And he loves it.

Having a good friend to keep you honest and accountable is a very smart decision to make as a grieving person.

It’s the healthy choice!

Another Year

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Each birthday is yet another transition: a year older to think about where life was at this time last year and where it may take you next.

I like transitions. Not that I desire to go through them often, but they lead me to ask some deeper questions, to appreciate the blessings of life and to realize that you can make it through life and its challenges.

That pretty well sums up life, doesn’t it?

Life does bring its challenges, but that’s okay.  It’s what you do with them that is important.

Life also brings its blessings. It is knowing what they are and appreciating each one for its unique place in your life.

Life does present its opportunities.  What will you do with them as you step out in courage to explore what these might be each and every day?

Grief is a challenge, a blessing and an opportunity. Think about each one of them as you transition through loss, because life is still present for you. And you might be blessed to have another year to live in this wonderful world.

The Grocery Aisle Blues

grocery-aisleI try to shop early in the morning or late at night. I admit that I am quite impatient when two people stop their carts right in the middle of the grocery aisle and begin to talk to each other when I am trying to get by.

They don’t seem to notice me.  “Excuse me,” I say. They push their carts to the side, sometimes a little annoyed with me.  “I’m just trying to get through to get out of here before it gets too busy,” I say to myself.

“Too busy” is not a good thing for the person who is grieving.  Even if you are an extreme extrovert, “too busy” is not helpful.

Grief stops us. And, yes, it annoys us because it gets in our way.  But it is stopping us for a reason: we need to slow down in order to reflect on what we’ve just lived or experienced.

The grocery aisle often reminds me to slow down.

Grief forces me to slow down and reminds me to move at a slower pace until I can fill my cart again, because, when someone dies whom you love, the cart is pretty empty.

Yes, it’s the grocery aisle blues.

Let the Grief Begin

Loss comes in all shapes and sizes; and with loss, comes grief.  After eight years as a parish pastor, I told my “sheep” that I would be returning to full time studies this fall and could no longer be their pastor.  Let the grief begin…

Some parishioners were surprised; others saw it coming.  Many knew my desire for deeper study in the area of Thanatology. I knew that my leaving would result in my own personal grief. And I also knew that each member of my congregation would experience it at some level as well.

I’m very intentional in my times of transition and indeed this is one of them. Applying the following principles to any loss can be very helpful. Consider these principles when you know someone is dying or in a situation in which you are experiencing loss. Take the time too:

1) Share Important Stories: There are stories that have shaped and formed us. There are always a few very important stories that are significant to our personal growth. They need be told with joy and retold in order to remember.

2) Express Your Gratitude: As people prepare for loss, if possible, take time to thank people who have touched your life. Loss includes transition, but recognize the past good and thank people for it. Showing appreciation is a healthy step towards a new beginning.

3) Speak Words of Forgiveness: As difficult as it may seem, life includes shattered relationships – many remain toxic because of un-forgiveness. No one’s life is perfect and if there is an opportunity to approach people to ask for forgiveness, take it. This may be your only opportunity to open your heart.

4) Say “I Love You”: Be genuine with your words.  If this was the last time you saw a loved one, wouldn’t you want those three words to be the last ones that came out of your mouth?

When my first wife, Pam, was dying, I intuitively went through the above checklist and found them very meaningful.  I will use these same principles in saying goodbye to my flock at St. Peter’s.

Can you add to the list above?  What principles have you found significant during your time of loss?

Planning

Planning for transition points in one’s grief journey is smart.

Life seems to come to a halt when we are grieving.  We are not sure how to re-enter life with all of its major changes and decisions.  Too much, too soon!

We can either get swept along in the crowd, without much control, or we can choose to enter back into life on our own terms and at our own pace. In order to do this, it is important to prepare, plan and proceed intentionally.

What have been some of the transition points in your grief journey?  What are some things that have helped you to transition well?  Looking back, would you have done anything differently?  What have you learned that can help others?  Please share your story.

A major transition point in my life was getting re-married. After almost 25 years of marriage and previous to those, 5 years of dating, I was frightened.  I had 4 children, an extended family and had experienced an unbelievable marriage with Pam.

I needed to consider how this would affect not just my life but all those people around me.  I needed to plan forward and anticipate what could happen if I didn’t put things into place and what wonderful things could happen if I did.

After Pam’s funeral and just prior to her Mom and Dad leaving to go home, Pam’s Mom came to me and wrapped her arms around my body.  She cried.  She said, “Rick, don’t forget us! Please!”  I said, “Mom I will never forget you.  I love you and you will always be my mom and dad and I will always share my life with you.”

She left that day and I did make an intentional effort to spend time with them on the phone, in person and on significant dates.  And then came a new woman in my life.  This was a transition point of great significance.  I planned it out well. I thought about who it would affect, what kind of responses there might and what I needed to do to make it less intense and an easier transition.