Who Am I Now?

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Personal identity is a big part of our grief work. When my first wife died, I really struggled with being single again: who was I now without her? I had to redefine and struggle with this new me. For 25 years, I was a husband. In conversations with strangers, the question would often come up, “So are you married?” I would have to tell the story. I was single and I was trying to understand what that meant. I didn’t like my new identity as a single person. I was missing my wife.

When I counsel seniors whose spouse has died after 40, 50 and sometimes 60 years of marriage, this new identity is even more difficult to sort out.

If you are one of them, know that you are special. By virtue of your long marriage you have been grafted together with your spouse in a wonderful and beautiful way that has made you who you are right now.

You life shared is still part of you. It always will be. Don’t forget that as you show the world who you are today.

 

Finding Community

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I played a lot of sports growing up and I coached a lot of athletic teams. Team sports were often about establishing a solid community.

Good coaching always involves the participation of all the team members. The best coaches know how to bring a team together when things are not going as well as planned. Sometimes, a game is lost because of a missed breakaway the last minute of a hockey game or an intercepted pass that results in a last second successful lay up in a basketball game. A team sport means that every member is important. Nevertheless, sometimes one member of the team has trouble playing a new position and they need extra support and coaching.

Research consistently indicates that belonging to a supportive and healthy community helps people to adapt following loss.

It has often been said that our heads and emotions are like a bad neighborhood:  we shouldn’t go there alone.

We all need people in our lives and this is never truer than when we are transitioning through our loss. Whether it is a small group of friends with whom we get together or a large community that we are involved with, it is crucial to healthy grieving.

What community do you belong to? If you don’t have a community, why not seek one out today?

 

Who Will Sharpen My Knives?

knifesHer 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.

 

 

 

“NO” Is Not a Bad Word

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Most people want to be kind to you following the death of your loved one or special friend. But have you ever wanted to say “NO” to a person but didn’t? Because you didn’t, it left you feeling frustrated or even angry. “They were trying to be nice,” you’d tell yourself, but their ‘kindness’ wasn’t what you needed in your heart of hearts. “No” is not a bad word when you are grieving…

“No, I don’t want to go out to a dance.”

“No, I don’t need to go to church today.”

“No, I don’t need you to come to visit with me.”

“No, I don’t need to go to your counselor.”

“No, I don’t need to hear about your own experience.”

“No, I don’t need to hear those platitudes right now.”

“No, I don’t need to talk to your friend who has gone through a similar experience.”

Most people have a harder time saying “no” than “yes”. We struggle with offending someone or feel guilty for not accepting a friend’s offer to ‘help’.

Sometimes, we will need to say “yes” – it is important to do that as well. But I have found that, in my many years of counseling people, learning to say “no” is one of the most important skills and one of the most challenging skills to learn. But you must say it in order to put a boundary around your heart – it needs to be protected in its fragile state and no one can do that but you.

So learn to say “no”. It’s really okay.

 

Say It! It Might Be You Last Christmas Together

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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?

 

 

 

 

Why Some People Fast-forward Through Christmas

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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?

Which Hat Will You Wear?

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When someone dies, you will have to put on a new hat. And that’s not easy.

Your identity changes when a significant person in your life dies. If it is a spouse, who are you now without your wife or husband? When a parent dies, who are you without your mom or dad?  How do you cope when your child dies – who are you now?

When my Dad died, I knew that I would never have another one, and I was heartbroken. When people ask me where my parents live, I need to tell them that my father died a number of years ago but my mom still lives. I put on a new hat as a son who has only a mother alive and no father.

But that doesn’t mean that I no longer have a relationship with my Dad. It’s just different now. I still love my Dad and I always will.

Discovering our new identity without that person in our lives is difficult but part of our transitional loss work. Why?  Because we miss who we were with that person. A chunk has been taken out of our lives and we have to redefine ourselves taking into consideration that scar.

While you will be different now, you are still who are because of your loved one. They have contributed to the person you have become.

So maybe, at some level you might be wearing two hats.  Both hats are necessary. Both are good. One hat looks back. One looks forward.

 

When I talk about my Dad, I share stories about how he has impacted my life. I tell people about how, in some ways, I am like him. I share important life lessons that he taught me. This is all good remembering and honours him.

 

Every person who has died and who is no longer part of your life has made you who you are in some identifiable ways. That’s the wonderful thing about having relationships. We impact each other.

 

I guess I will take off my hat to my Dad today and thank him for what he added into my life.