My father-in-law died during Holy Week last year and my wife, Erica (his daughter) and I were there to experience his last breath on earth.
The last breath on earth means the first breath in heaven. He was a believer in Jesus and was confident in his new beginning beyond this earth. Continue reading →
After reading my work on loss after a death, many people have commented on the similarities in the aftermath of their divorce. “The loss feels the same in so many ways,” they observe. Yes, the transition is huge. And it’s so important to do it well for all who are involved in the process.
In death, you can no longer be with that person physically. You cannot spend time with them to continue the relationship on an emotional level, so you detach and find new emotional attachments in your life. This does not mean that you stop loving or remembering, it’s just that the relationship is not as it was when the person was living. It can’t be.
In divorce, the relationship changes because it’s different than it once was. This is due to circumstances and a difficult situation, not because someone has died and left completely. Divorce includes multiple losses in numerous secure relationships: Mom and Dad, brother and sister, Grandpa and Grandma, uncles and aunts, friendships and shared communities are all interrupted as people have to redefine their relationship with those involved in the divorce. Continue reading →
Her husband died. She was devastated. They had been married for over 50 years. They were a sweet and precious couple who loved each other so very much. And then cancer came and interrupted their life and he died.
I went to see her one morning, two weeks after the funeral. We shared some beautiful stories about her husband. Tears were shed. Yet even through the tears there were brief bursts of laughter as we remembered him in our conversation.
“I know you must miss so many things about your husband. Can you tell me one thing that you’ll especially miss that is on your mind right now?” I asked.
“I know this sounds selfish,” she began, “but I wonder whose going to change my summer tires to winter tires and who is going to sharpen my knifes now? Lawrence had always done that,” she continued. And then she started to cry.
I knew that her tears were deeper than knives or tires, but these were symbols of adjustments to a new life that she would have to make without him. She was a senior and together they had worked out how they would live together and what roles each one played in their relationship. And now, things were different. She felt that everything was on her shoulders now.
“How about we find someone to do those things for you?” I said to her. “We can help you find the people and then, next year, you will be able to tackle those kinds of decisions on your own.” “That would be great!” she said. “It would really take some big things off my mind,” a hint of a smile on her lips.
You can help a grieving person adjust just by being sensitive to the little things that loss has brought into their “new” life.
Writing down your goals is always a good thing in your grief work. It’s easy to get stopped when someone has died and left a big hole in your life. It’s difficult to move forward when you are now forced to adapt to a special person who is no longer physically present in your life.
This person could have been a big part of your dreams or you may have spent time with them planning out the next steps in your life together. Either way, you feel loss.
It’s not easy to move even one step forward when that person is not part of your short or long-term plans or dreams. In fact, these dreams, which you once had together, may have shifted with their dying. That presents yet another loss that has come as a result of death.
Before thinking too far ahead into the future, you may want to consider some of the secondary losses that have come as a result of death and ask yourself what you will do with each one.
Have my friendships changed?
Are there different tasks I need to do now?
Do I need to re-consider my finances?
What do I do with my spare time now?
Has my role changed in my family or extended family?
Will I remain in my present location or home?
Try not to become overwhelmed with these considerations but look at them one at a time, deciding what you will do first and how you will manage them as you grieve for the one who has died.
Why not write down your grief goals and work at them in an order that is priority for you? New Year’s is a good time to take inventory of your life.
What you do before someone dies is very important. None of us knows if this might be the last Christmas with someone sitting across the table from us. We cannot predict our future, let alone our next day on earth.
But maybe some of you are caring for family or friends who are terminally ill, parents who are elderly and getting weaker or a person who may be struggling with a difficult illness.
I picked up a hitchhiker a number of years ago just before Christmas. He was about 30 years old. He jumped into the car and thanked me. “Where are you headed?” he asked. “I’m going back home to see my family. My dad is dying and I need to spend some time with him,” he continued. “Good for you,” I replied. “Yeah,” he said, “I haven’t been home for ten years.” I waited for him to continue. “My Dad and I had a falling out and I left.” For over ten years, this young man had not been home or even spoken to his dad.
…And now it was time.
I don’t know what happened and likely never will know. But I wondered – his dad had called him to come – did he and his dad exchange important words? Words that were spoken that may have freed each of their hearts?
Christmas is a time to…
- tell people that you love them
- let people know how much they mean to you
- ask for forgiveness
- let people know what they have contributed into this world that was significant
We should be doing all of the above not only when people are dying, but every time we meet.
Why not start this Christmas?
We are pretty careful as adults to make sure that our children or grandchildren are always happy at Christmas.
It’s the happiest time of the year. Isn’t it?
But Grandpa isn’t here. How do your little ones respond when Grandpa no longer comes with Christmas gifts, nor the laughter that he used to bring? No more hugs or cuddles or wrestling on the couch…
Should we fain happiness or should we allow sadness to come for a visit for a while? There is a purpose to sadness, even in the midst of the season of “good tidings and cheer”.
How about talking about Grandpa? How about a special time set aside to focus for a few moments on Grandpa? Everyone is missing him, so why not talk about him? Not saying anything is like ignoring the elephant in the room.
Why? Because we might cry? Because we miss him? Because we still love him so much?
I miss my dad every Christmas and my children miss their grandpa too. We love talking about all the things that made him special to each one of us. Do we shed some tears? Sure, but we have a few laughs, and we are thankful for the time that we did have together.
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.
How many of you remember cassette tapes where you could fast-forward through a song that you didn’t like and find the one you preferred to listen to over and over again? It was never easy to guess when to stop the fast-forward button, and so you would have to stop and start a few times. Sometimes you would fast-forward for too long and miss the song that you really wanted to hear.
For many people, Christmas grief is much like that. They want to fast-forward to the other side of Christmas to a place where they don’t have to experience the season and the ‘song’ that goes with it.
Does that sound familiar?
Are you missing someone very special this Christmas? Is the thought of them not being there too difficult to imagine? You don’t want the strong emotions that come from their absence to overtake you. You would like to put your life and Christmas on fast-forward.
Let’s go back to the cassette tape for a moment. While I did prefer certain songs in the long playlist, I did take time to listen to a few others and began to enjoy different songs as well. Sometimes I’d land on one of the less familiar songs by accident, but decided to listen anyway. Soon, I began to appreciate those ones on the playlist as well.
Your Christmas will never be the same without that special person who is no longer present for your festivities. But do you really want to fast-forward through this Christmas?
Even in the midst of your missing, you must open up your heart to the new songs being played around you. You are not disallowing the old song to play in your heart, you are just opening yourself up to a world, to a life, to people that love you. Why not play a few notes for your hurting heart?
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.
I’ve never died. I have suffered, but have never experienced the process of dying or death itself. What I do know is that how I live my life effects others and presumably how I die must also impact others. It has to. I was meant to live and I was meant to die.
When I look at my life so far, I am humbled to think that my life has some how made a difference in someone else’s life. I want my dying and death to also impact people for good.
My first wife Pam died. And she did suffer. And we all suffered. Our final days together as a family with Pam changed our lives forever. Ask our four children.
Did Pam want to die sooner than she did? Not likely. But she did say that everything was in God’s hands and maintained that until she took her last breath. She graciously entered dying with her hope fixed upon a future hope and a peace that passes all understanding. Pam’s final days on this earth changed my life forever. I wonder if that was one of the final gifts she gave to us.
I will honor that gift and continue to reflect upon the deep lessons that I learned – lessons that emanated from the one who was dying.
A wise writer once said, “There is a time to be born and a time to die.” Both, from my perspective, have deep purpose and meaning.
I am thankful that I have learned that dying is not just about me. I will hold that principle close until the day I breathe my last breath.