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.

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


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


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?





How to Invite Grandpa to Christmas the Year After His Death


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.

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.

Idle Talk

Idle-Talk-1024x682One of the common ways that we avoid grief is through idle talk.

I do most of my writing in public places. As I sit in coffee shops and nurse my mug of java or enjoy a beer at the local pub, I often experience idle talk all around me. I don’t intend to listen in but sometimes people talk so loudly that it’s inevitable. Most of what I hear is chitchat, complaining, arguing, or gossiping.  Tune in sometimes to conversations around you. So often there isn’t much substance or depth.

This happens not just at coffee shops and pubs – I find that there can also be a lot of idle chat following the death of someone whom we love. Even though we are experiencing something very deep in lives, we tend to want to talk about things that don’t take us to our sadness, loneliness and missing. We converse on the surface. Strangely, our family and friends also respond with idle talk too and take their cue from us to not go deeper.

Grief can be one of the most transformational and life-changing experiences that we enter into, if we chose to enter into it. If others are willing to engage us at a deeper level and we are able to engage meaningfully, conversations of significance can change more people than just the one who is grieving.

Perhaps it’s time to ask more questions of those who are grieving and to give fewer answers as we listen to their responses.

Why not go beyond idle talk to deeper conversation?

Suicide and Grief

Suicide-1024x682Not many people want to talk about suicide. It’s often swept under the carpet…unless it happens to a famous movie star. Then we all take notice. It brings the topic into focus for a while – which is a good thing. The death of our beloved comedian, Robin Williams, has stopped us in our tracks and pushed a very difficult subject to the front pages of our own lives.

Grief following suicide is very difficult. There are so many unanswered questions; so many “what ifs”. The emotional turmoil experienced by those left behind is extremely intense and difficult.

I have cared for many people who have gone through the trauma of grief following the suicide of a loved one. I know from experience that so many want to keep the conversations around death by suicide a secret, hidden from those around them. In my world of thanatology, we call this “disenfranchised grief”.  Grief that goes incognito, almost like a taboo that we don’t want to talk about for fear of people’s response to it.

If you are one of those who have gone through or who are mourning following death by suicide of a family member or friend, you are hurting at a level that not many of us can understand. We can’t possibly understand unless we have gone through this experience ourselves. We can only listen without judgment.

True compassion exists only when we leave our personal viewpoints at the door and become available to a fellow human being. We can’t offer answers where no answers exist. But we can meet where two hearts come together and speak only what is really necessary.

Be kind to each other.

Words We Love to Read


There are some words in our lives that we will always want to read or hear and of which we’ll never tire.

I was cleaning out our shed as our daughter prepared to head east for Law School. I needed to search for a few things that Larissa had stored when she moved back into to our home. She needed them right away. As I rearranged our shed, I came across an old whiteboard. To my surprise, I found some words written in Pam’s handwriting, penned over eight years ago. It was a good surprise – like a lovely fragrance that brings back past memories.

One of the defining characteristics of Pam was her amazing handwriting. It was a piece of art. But more importantly, was her message to me: “I love you, honey! Your Pam XOXO”

There are words we love to read, and words we love to hear. Saying and writing them now, when your loved one is still with you in this life is very important and necessary. Don’t wait.

I just happened to come across this afterwards and it was really good.