Talk of the Town


When someone dies in your relationship circle, you quickly become the talk of the town.

I hate gossip and our world is filled with it. People spend money on magazines that are filled with gossip. It permeates our own lives too:

“I wonder how she doing since her husband died?”

“Did you see him? He looked awful – doesn’t look like he’s managing his life since he lost his wife.”

“I really don’t thing she’s coping very well since the death of her son.”

“She’s lost a ton of weight – must be her father’s death.”

“I heard she’s going to sell her house because it’s too big to live in all by herself.”

“What do you think will happen to the family business?”

“Can you believe it? I heard that he’s dating already!”

“I heard that the kids are fighting over his will.”

Gossip! What a waste of energy spent “wondering” when you could actually care.

Maybe someone should publish a grief gossip magazine with all the gritty details of other people’s loss. I have heard all of the above comments and they’ve made me wince every time.

Then what can we do besides wonder what is happening in a grieving person’s life, making assumptions based on rumors? It’s really simple: “Can you tell me a story about your husband today?”

It’s no longer gossip when you ask them. Because the information is coming from the person directly, you will be touched deeply and discover how they are really doing and where they are at in their grief.

As they grieve, people need to tell the story of love, of a life lived that was significant. They need to know that someone else is interested in the person who is no longer with them and the impact, influence and importance they were in their life.

Can you do that with someone? They really are waiting to share something special with you.

We Don’t Need Rescuing!


We don’t need to be rescued, but what we do need is somebody to be in our boat –someone who can help paddle alongside us when necessary.

I remember getting caught once in a huge storm. There was the two of us and we were in a canoe in the middle of the lake. We did not notice the storm brewing in the distance. You probably called it! Yes, I was with a girl and so did not notice anything but her.

We were in the middle of the lake and it was tough going! We could not paddle hard enough to get back to the camp we were at. “Let’s just allow the storm to take us to where it wants to,” I said. “Then when can get out of the boat once it gets to the shoreline and paddle back to camp along the edge of the lake once the storm is past.” I thought I was brilliant! And, although it may have been the long way home, we did finally find our way back to camp safely.

Had we stayed out in the middle of the lake, open to the elements, perhaps we would have needed to be rescued. The waves and the direction of the wind took us towards the shore. We just had to be patient. And let’s face it – I was a little scared because I was not in control. But at least I had someone with me – I wasn’t on my own.

This grief storm shall pass too. The intensity of grief is real. You feel exposed to the elements. You will feel better though, knowing that someone else is in your boat. You don’t have to go it alone.

Someone is willing to be with you in the storm. Do you know who that might be?

A “Remember Me” Legacy

poppy-e1415731891878-1024x764One cannot help but be deeply touched by the stories that flow out of Remembrance Day. Reading the newspapers, watching the T.V., seeing pictures and stories posted on Facebook. We all remember the legacy of individuals and their contributions and sacrifices for our present freedoms.

As we age, have failing health or are in the process of dying, we take time to reminiscence. In that time, we begin the work of understanding our legacy and our symbolic immortality.

What remains of our lives after we die?

How will I be remembered?

We want to know how we have contributed to the lives of those who are closest to us.

We want to think about how our lives will continue through our children.

We want to reflect upon how we have contributed towards a wider community.

We want to know if we have lived life well and had significant relationships.

We want to reflect the possibility of reunion and after life.

We ask the deeper questions about our personal significance, how we will ultimately be remembered and if there is the possibility of transcendence.

We may not have fought in a war and died unselfishly for a bigger cause, but each of us has left something behind that is significant.

This life review is important. If you are grieving, then take some time to thank the person (even though they have died) for the contributions they made in your life. If you are involved with someone who is dying, invite that person to reflect on his or her life. Help him or her get started by sharing how they have made an impact on your own life.

This is helping to create a Remember Me legacy.

A Child’s View of Death


I watched Bambi with my grandson the other day and found myself tearing up during the scene when Bambi’s mother dies – even after all these years. It took me back to the first time I watched that Disney movie as a child. It evoked the same emotions even 50 years later. Bambi was my first exposure to the concept of death and dying.

This week I saw a picture of a young solider in front of a memorial, lifeless on the ground, shot and killed.  It saddened me to think of his last breath and perhaps the final thoughts of his young son without him as his father in his life. Tears came quickly.

We are all cut to the core when we view death from a distance. It reminds us deeply of our own immortality and our closest and most precious relationships that we don’t want to leave or live without.

In this world of mass media and the Internet, we view death from a distance frequently and our children take it all in as well.

Some scholars believe that a child’s understanding of death is established by the age of 6. This means that our conversations with children about death are significant. Even more important is our example – how do we as adults deal with death? These young ones are watch us closely, taking their cue from our response to death and dying.

Think carefully of how you “do” death, dying and grief. You are preparing your children and grandchildren for the death experiences that will eventually happen within their significant relationships.

It’s the “circle of life” (as Elton John sings in The Lion King) and yet so often we want to ignore the topic of death and dying. We give it a terse glance when it happens – it is easier to cut it out of the circle.

Take advantage of the teachable moments that present themselves in your life. Perhaps the death of an honorable Canadian solider might be the moment you’ve been waiting for to speak with your children and ask them simple questions about how they understand death.

Gripping Grief

Are We a Community in Grief?

Once in awhile a community is gripped by grief. The ripple effect from Brandon Thomas’ death has been felt by many in our community and beyond. Any death is difficult, but the circumstances surrounding this young man’s death, a teenager whose life was just beginning to flourish, touches us in deep places. It leaves us with many questions and forces us to look at our own lives differently.

We think about the vulnerability of life – what we can’t control and what we can. We think about our own children and grandchildren or reflect upon those who were special to us and have died.

I heard the stories of many people following Brandon’s celebration of life service – stories that clearly indicate that we in Cochrane are experiencing grief, even if we did not know Brandon or his family very well. This death, combined with the “happiest” time of the year has left us feeling sad and asking questions: Why? How come? What if?

It did not matter where you were this past week in Cochrane; people were talking about this tragic event with sad hearts. Christmas joy turned into Christmas grief.

So what can we do?

Grieve well.

Be intentional about our grief.

Community grief is a complex thing. It’s a combination of people who are experiencing loss of their own in different forms. This tragic death tips us over the edge and in some way gives us permission to grieve not only for Brandon’s family but for the losses in our own lives – because loss IS a part of life. Losses can accumulate and should be faced head on.

Grief is a hard thing but not a bad thing. It is a necessary and ongoing process that can and should be thought through and planned forward wisely. There are some things you can do that are helpful and some things a friend can do to help you along the way.

The truth is any loss in our lives causes grief. If you are experiencing loss you are grieving at some level.

I often ask people, “What is it that you had last year that you won’t have this year? If you had it last year and you don’t have it this year then it’s missing and anything missing leaves a hole in your life and that’s loss. And loss is grief.”

So what are you missing?

Indeed the death of a loved or in this case the death of a child must be one that is overwhelming. And unless you have gone through it you will never understand. I don’t.

But a community in grief begs a more personal question that all of us should be asking ourselves and ultimately each other: What are you going through? What’s happening in your heart? Are you grieving in some way?

A community is a group of people in relationship with one another. Entering into grief together involves people talking to each other and listening to each other one-on-one in the coffee shops, in our homes, at recreation centers or in our neighborhoods.

Do you have a good friend to sit with, someone who will listen to you, asking your real and honest questions. A friend who does not have all the easy answers and platitudes but is willing to allow your story to come first over there’s?

You don’t want grief to have a grip on you for too long. And so you need to do something about it. It begins with your own authenticity and an honest look at what’s happening in your own life.

To help you explore healthy grief in your life, here are two resources that may be helpful.

First, you are invited to visit Rick’s website at (this website) for more information about death, dying and grief. You are especially invited to check out the blogs and to enter into the conversation by sharing your personal comments and stories about death and grief.

Second, on Thursday, January 10, 2013, the Cochrane Country Funeral Home will be sponsoring a one-evening seminar entitled “How to Care for a Grieving Friend”, presented by Rick Bergh. Learn what you can do and say to help a friend grieve well. It all starts at 7:00 pm at the Cochrane Legion located at 114-5th Ave. west.

This seminar is free for the community to attend.

[Our special thanks to the Cochrane Eagle for running this article in today’s edition – page 20.]

The Shovel

Lawrence died.  It was sudden and unexpected.  I went to visit his family.  It was a sad time.

The next morning, I received a phone call from Wayne, asking if I wanted to come down to the church.  Some of the men were meeting there.  I didn’t know the purpose, but I went anyway.

As I drove up to the church that mid-morning, I noticed a number of cars and trucks lined up across the front of the church.  “Quite a few vehicles here,” I said to myself.  I parked, and then walked towards the steel gate in an attempt to find the men and understand the reason for their invitation.

I found them. They were sitting outside, next to the church in the graveyard. They were in a circle and were chatting.  I soon found out why they had invited me to join them. The purpose for their gathering was to dig the grave of their dear brother, Lawrence.  “Good morning, Pastor!” they said to me, each in turn shaking my hand.  We talked as each one took a turn with the shovel. And then Edwin, Lawrence’s son, handed the shovel to me. “Your turn,” Edwin said.  And I dug the dirt, throwing it to the side against a large heap to be placed on the coffin later.

It was an amazing experience for me that day, as the young pastor of Zion Lutheran Church.  The gathering of community to share the burden and grief of one our church family members was moving. To be included in the process of mourning, whatever form that took, was powerful.

We all talked and shared a few stories as each one was given the opportunity to use the shovel.  A short time later, the women of the congregation showed up with refreshments.  This included Lawrence’s wife, Julie, and their daughter-in-law, Lynn.  We spent precious time together.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” says the writer of the letter to the Galatians. It all came to life. For me it meant sharing the load, taking the shovel, offering a hand, caring for each other as the body of Christ.

The funeral was filled with hopefulness because Lawrence was a believer and had a strong faith in Jesus. That kind of hope is powerful in the face of death. As I spoke those final words, “Go in Peace,” Edwin got up, picked up the shovel again, threw some dirt on the grave of his father and passed the shovel on to the next person, who did likewise.

And then we had lunch.

A Warm Welcome

This web site is about you.  The principles that I share come from my best teachers: the everyday people who have shared their experiences of grief with me. I have collected them so that we can continue to learn from these stories.

I believe in Intentional Grief.  There are some things that can be done in one’s grief process that are helpful and other things that a friend can do that are helpful. Learn what these are in this website and add your comments and stories.

I’m interested in hearing from professionals and lay people who would like to share insightful information in the area of grief, death and dying.

If you have an experience or a new perspective, let’s talk together in order to provide effective information that can be helpful to people facing grief.

This blog is not intended as a place to argue your opinions but rather to share your stories and experiences. As such, the language you use should express your own understanding and not be critical of another’s experience. Asking a question is always more powerful than giving an answer.

I look forward to your involvement as we learn together.