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 →

Red Cabbage Is Much Better than Christmas Cake

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Have you ever noticed that there are some things you just can’t give up because they evoke a powerful memory? It immediately connects you with the person who has died and is no longer present at your celebrations. Take it away, and you distance the person who has died. We call this a connecting bond. It helps us to adapt to life without that person, but still have some kind of connection with them that is healthy.

The first Christmas following the death of their mom, my four children, ages 17-23, were expecting their mom’s favorite red cabbage recipe, which I did my best to replicate. It was important. Red Cabbage at Christmas is connecting bond for our family. It is one of our most precious Christmas meal traditions. We don’t often eat it at any other time of the year, but our kids expect it at the Christmas table.

Why? Because it’s part of their mom’s heritage and is now a part of our family tradition. Red Cabbage connects us with Pam because it reminds us of her. It often results in a conversation about our lives with her, which is good. We still love and miss her very much.

We do make changes in our lives as we transition through loss, but we don’t change too many things during this adaptation. Rituals, symbols and traditions give us some stability when things are difficult during special holidays celebrations.

You will know what’s important to you and your family.  Consider what these are and be intentional as you include them in your Christmas festivities.

My House Is Different from Yours

Pte-Claire-House-768x1024We went to visit some friends this evening. They had built a new home as they entered into their retirement. It’s a beautiful home and because we know them quite well, we could see their unique decorating tastes.

Our home is different than theirs. Even when we initially bought our home, we changed it to our specific style preference. We made it our own, because up until then it was someone else’s home.

It’s really important to make grief your own. And although there are many components that you must consider in looking at your specific grief profile, cultural background is a significant one.

Take a close look at your background. How did your family approach, enter into and move through the experiences of death, dying and grief? Your cultural heritage, your unique family background with all of its features, has formed and shaped you in specific ways. You bring to your loss experience preset coping mechanisms that have been learned from the family culture in which you grew up. Perhaps you have changed some of these grieving patterns. We do this as part of the socialization process. When we intersect with other cultures that are different from our own, we may choose, intentionally or not, to make adaptations in our transitional loss preferences.

Most people do not take time to examine the implication of their cultural background in their grief work, but I believe it’s a crucial step to healthy transition.

If we want to understand some of the interesting decisions that we make in regards to our grief work and if we want to help others, we cannot make the assumption that they are like us or like people from our own culture or that they grieve and mourn the way that we do.

The wider question is: “Do you know how your culture is influencing your grief experience?”

Think back to your experiences of loss over the years. Place yourself in the context of these experiences. What do you see? Who was present? What was spoken? How were emotions expressed? What happened during the transition? This is a very simple exercise in identifying a few important patterns that you are currently using in your life to transition through loss.

Take with you what is helpful, and leave behind what is not. Renovate your house if you need too.  At least consider adding a few touches that are unique to you.

Find the Lizard

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On a hike in Iao State Park in Maui, we came upon two young men pointing towards a rock in the forest informing us that if you looked closely,  you could spot a lizard.  Can you see it?

Erica and I commented on the amazing camouflage attributes of this little creature.  I began to think about how some people work hard at camouflaging their grief.

Why do people want to blend into society so quickly following the death of a person who is close to them? Why do so many want to just cover up what they are going through as if to believe that it is better to just get going on with life?

I once read  about a practice in a culture where upon losing a loved one, the grieving person tied a black band on their arm to clearly indicate they were in a season of mourning.  Is that an extreme?  The opposite is camouflage.

It seems to me that in hiding our grief we are taking away one of the most important components of entering back into life following loss, that is a community that needs to be involved and care.

Did you experience a community that cared for you during your time of grief?

Grieving Romanian Style

We were standing by the grave of his mother, a grave in which his father had recently been placed as well.  He brought me with him to experience his native country of Romania. In Romania, you take care of your loved one’s gravesite.

The day after we arrived, Lucien took me to the final resting place of his mom and dad.  We brought cleaning materials, a small shovel, flowers and black soil. He carefully cleaned the headstone, giving me the opportunity to participate. We picked a few weeds, dug around the area to make it look beautiful and fresh. We placed some colourful flowers in the right spot. Then, Lucien took an oval picture of his father out of his pocket.  The picture of his father as a younger man was embedded in a fiberglass plaque. The back of the plaque had an indentation where glue would go. It matched the space on the headstone where the plaque would be inserted. His mother’s picture was already set in its place.  She was waiting for the picture of her husband to accompany her. I looked around at the other headstones in the cemetery; the majority included oval pictures of smiling loved ones who had died but had once lived full lives on this earth.  Looking at them, I had a sense of wanting to know more about the stories behind their faces.

I knew Lucien’s father and even though we did not understand each other’s native tongue, we spoke the same language.  I loved him and he loved me and my family.

Lucien glued the plaque of his father onto the gravestone carefully.  We stood back.  We said a prayer.  We had a tear. We told a story. We celebrated a life.  I liked the oval plaque idea.  So I’ve decided to borrow that idea for myself.  It’s not common in Canada.  It’s grieving Romanian style. I wonder if people will someday look at my face on my headstone and wonder about the story behind that face?  It will be a smiling face just like Lucien’s father’s was. I wonder why he was smiling?