Following the Bunny Prints

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


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.

It’s Often the Little Things


She left me one last parting gift and a smile to go with it.  “Here Dad,” she said, handing me a dirty diaper and an empty juice box – both of them reminders of our grandchildren, Ella and Connor. “I’ll take care of that,” I said to our daughter.  “Thanks Dad,” she said smiling.

I waved to Keeara’s family as their car sped off to drive back to their home three hours away. It had been a wonderful, busy weekend of spending time with those precious little people…and now it was time to tidy up the house.

There, sitting on the coffee table, were a helicopter and a toy train that needed to be put away in the toy box. Next, I removed the stickers from the kitchen counter, lovingly stuck there by Connor. I found a toy saw under the coffee table. “I guess I had better put those candles back in their holders again,” I mused. There was a ball in the entry way and a toy bucket tipped on its side at the front door.  “Oh! There it is!”  I exclaimed, finding my cell phone cover under the couch pillows. “That reminds me, I need to fix that blind that Connor pulled down.” I glanced outside and noticed the scooter and the orange wagon. “What’s that sticking out from under the couch?  Oh, it’s the red racecar.  And there’s that little rattle. I wondered what had happened to that,” I said audibly.

As I picked up each of these items, I found myself shedding some tears.  What a gift from God these little people are! I missed them already and these small things reminded me so much of them.

In grief, don’t be surprised by all the little things you will miss when a loved one dies. Those little things make up life in all its simplicity and meaningfulness.

It’s crazy, but I didn’t want to throw away that dirty diaper or the empty apple juice container right away. So I left them on the front step for another day.

Treasures Under the Deck

Saw-horses-1024x682I quickly covered the space under the deck with wooden lattice to make it look nice for our daughter’s wedding rehearsal supper. I secured the lattice tightly with a number of nails.

Four years later, I removed the lattice and discovered some treasures that I had stored beneath the deck. I don’t mean gold, or silver but some items so much more valuable.

Two of those items were old wooden sawhorses that one could scarcely give away, much less sell. I would never give them to anybody anyway, because they had been my grandpa’s. I remember as a young boy working with him as he used them for his many handyman projects.

Gramps had made those saw horses. I looked at them closely. They weren’t falling apart at all – they had been well made. But across the top of the sawhorses were a number of cuts, scars from jobs well done and completed in years gone by.

I sat down for a moment and reminisced about the many wood projects he and I had worked on together. What great memories of time spent with my special Gramps. “I want to be a good grandpa, too,” I thought to myself. “I want my grandchildren to remember me, just like I remembered my grandpa.”

I need to continue to make good choices with my time on earth – people before things. “I gotta get going,” I said to myself.  “The grandkids are coming down in a couple of weeks and I need to get those French doors into place so they have a room of their own.”

So, I used the sawhorses.


Holding Onto Familiarity

Connor-at-the-Condo-Familiar-821x1024What we hold onto for our security is important.

Children have their blankets, soothers and stuffed animals. I was at the dentist the other day and I found myself not wanting to let go of the suction tube. I feel like I’m suffocating when fluid sits at the bottom of my throat. I need to have control.

We went see the new home that our daughter and son-in-law had purchased. Connor, our grandson, looked around and went exploring. They had not moved in yet. His Dad said to him, “Do you want to go back to the condo?” Connor ran to the door to put on his sandals. It will take time for him to become familiar with his new home. Although it is so much nicer, it doesn’t matter. It’s not yet familiar. It will still feel like loss to him initially since the condo is home to him.

When death occurs, we hold onto to whatever gives us a sense of security to help us make it through a tough period in our lives. I heard a story of a man who sold his home two weeks after his spouse died, leaving all that was familiar behind. Not even a year later, he moved back to his community and friends.

Don’t let people tell you that the easiest way to move on with your life is to let go of all that is familiar, following the death of a loved one. In fact, you need familiarity during your grief journey to survive what is hard. Bit by bit, you will let go, but for the time being, embrace the familiar as you move forward. Do so in a healthy time frame. Sometimes too much is too soon!

I Wish We Had the Cabin


We were helping our daughter pack the other day in blistering heat.  Keeara commented, “These are the days, that I wished we still had the cabin at the lake.”  “Yeah, I would love that too!” I replied.  “I would be jumping into that water to cool off right about now.”

We sold the cabin a few years back and we still miss it. As Keeara reminded me of our family cabin, I was immediately brought back into relationship with her mom who every summer would pack up the kids and spend the next two months enjoying the cottage life.  Pam was so happy at the lake and it was a place packed with incredible memories and love.

The cabin is gone forever. When we sold it, I experienced feelings of loss that were very deep. Even though Pam is now in heaven, I still recall the many family memories connected directly to our cabin.

Loss comes in many forms and although we speak often about loss as we grieve the death of a loved one, we do not always realize that grief is experienced through a variety of loses that we go through during our lifetime.

How we move through the loss will determine how effectively we move through bigger losses in our lives. The healthy choice is to recognize the loss as important and to take some time to think about how it may impact our lives.

Could it be a job, a friendship, a broken relationship that is no longer viable? Maybe it’s a parent with Alzheimer’s, or a child who’s left the country or a divorce or a physical disability that has forced you to live life differently.  Maybe you have been forced to move to another community or had a financial loss that prevents you from making a dream come true. Loss comes in all forms.  Don’t take the losses lightly.  Learn from them and be prepared for the next one, because they will come again.

Flash Flood Memories

It’s no longer there.  At least we can’t see it right now. Huge flash floods combined with the melting snow from mountaintops have resulted in the worst flooding since the 1930’s. The path is no long visible.  It’s below water.  Maybe once the water has receded, the garbage cleared from along the riverbanks, and the path dried by the sun, we can walk again.

That path has a lot of memories. One of the last outdoor memories I have of my first wife, Pam, is pushing her in the wheel chair on that path – the final destination on the top of the hill overlooking a valley where our home church is located.

When I walked that path alone in the days that followed Pam’s death, it was sad. Sometimes I didn’t want to walk that familiar path and would choose another route.

I find in grief, physical places that were significant are sometimes difficult to return to.  Perhaps “flash flood memories” is a good description and the reason why we sometimes ignore these significant places.  It’s too much at one time for our hearts to take in and or minds to process. We want to keep the memories under water.  Most physical places don’t go away.

In the movie, We Bought a Zoo, a widower returns to the place where he met his wife for the first time. Throughout the movie, he avoids this place, but in the last scene of the movie, he returns to the small restaurant where he first met his children’s mom. And he tells them the story of how he and their mom met for the first time.

I have good memories too, flash flood memories that I need to let in even in the midst of my missing her.

The Piano

photo-smallThis week I received a precious gift. My childhood piano. My parents had it shipped here because they’re moving. As I write this, they are heading to a seniors’ residence after 43 years of living in the same house in Montreal. I live in Alberta, so I’m grateful to my brother and sister who are on site to help them today.

My dad is a pianist / organist. My mom sings. I’m a choral conductor. Music was the heartbeat of our home and the piano was the center for all that music-making. It was my best friend growing up.

As I watched the movers bring the piano down the stairs and into its new home here in Alberta, I wept. It made it all that way! My parents, now in their late 80’s have made it all that way too. After the movers left, I picked up the phone and called my parents. “There’s an old friend here who wants to speak to you,” I said. I put the phone on speaker mode and placed it on the piano and played the Doxology, Praise God from Whom All Blessing Flow. My mom began to sob. “Erica, it makes it all real, hearing that piano at your home now. I needed to cry. I haven’t cried about our move yet but I’ve needed to. Thank you for making me cry.”

God bless you in your transition, Mom and Dad. You’ve made that house a home for 43 years and now you’ve sent a big piece of that westward to me. I’ll take good care of the piano – I promise.

Submitted by Erica Phare-Bergh

dad & piano

Memory Quilt


My good friend, Robin, showed me something very beautiful that she had been working on since her mom’s death.

Have you ever wondered what to do with all the clothing that your loved one wore and now just sits in the closet or dresser? It’s fascinating how even certain clothing items remind you of that person. You struggle with throwing it out. You could give it to the second hand store, but it’s too precious to you.

Robin has taken her mom’s clothes and done something significant with them.

Here is her story:

My mother lived with us for six years after my dad died in Ontario. We moved Mom out to Alberta so that we could care for her. It was the best decision we ever made. My four teenage children had a wonderful relationship with her that would not have deepened had she stayed in Ontario. After Mom died (almost three years ago now), it took me a while to decide what to do with her clothes. When I finally began to deal with them months later, I sorted through everything, getting rid of certain things that had no emotional value and keeping all the favourites that I remember her wearing all the time. Then it dawned on me: when my children grew up and I just couldn’t get rid of their baby clothes, I would sew a quilt out of them – one for each child. So, I decided to do the same with my mom’s clothes. I took all the favourites that she wore all the time and sewed together a big quilt for a queen-sized bed. I also made smaller, individual quilts for each of my kids, who are now in their twenties. It was a joy to feel so close to my mom during this project. I truly felt that she was there with me as I sewed.  It was a very happy thing for me to do and I had beautiful and fun memories of Mom with each stitch.  Now we all look at the quilt and we feel Grandma all over again.  What a lovely keepsake!

Still Remembering Pam’s Birthday

DSCN9550-1024x768It’s Pam birthday.  I can see her smiling face. I can hear the tone of her voice. “You guys, I don’t need a birthday party!”  “You shouldn’t have bought me a gift!”  “You have all gone overboard!”  Pam loved to give great and wonderful birthday parties. Each one had a specific theme and a detailed decorated cake.  Our kids can remember and tell you about the numerous, well planned, highly creative birthday parties their mom put together for them over the years.  But she didn’t want us to make it a big deal for her birthday. That’s just who she was.

People say the first birthday of a loved after their death is the most difficult.  It’s still hard for me.  I still want to make it a big deal.  Erica bought some beautiful flowers.  I went up to the cemetery and sang happy birthday. We talked to our kids about mom.  I would have liked to have made it a bigger deal.

I would have liked to have brought home the ice-cream cake from Dairy Queen and have Pam blow out the candles.  Hold it… I think I will buy the cake and bring it home.  Most of the kids will be home on Sunday and perhaps we can all blow out the candles together and remember their mom and her birthday too.

Happy Birthday Pam!