Driver or Passenger?


My uncle taught me the proper way to purchase a used vehicle when I was a young adult. We went to the used car lot and as the salesman approached us, my uncle said to me, “Let me begin the conversation.” As the man made his way toward us enthusiastically, he greeted us and said, “So, what can I do for you today?” My uncle responded, “No,” he replied unflinchingly, “it’s not what you can do for us, it’s what we can do for you.” I stood back and wondered how the man would respond. He smiled knowingly and said, “Yes, you are right.” And then we went and bought a vehicle from him.

It’s not what grief will do to me, it what I can do with my grief. This is a completely different way to approach the role of grief in your life. It has a unique role in your life as you adapt to your life without that very special person.

Grief works itself out in life, through living, in movement. You can’t drive a parked car. You must be in “drive” to work through grief. That’s the nature of grief. You want to be the driver, not the passenger. That does not mean the road you travel on will not have its share of curves, detours or stop signs. Your journey will not be predictable. The landscape will change along the way.

Nevertheless, grief has a significant place in your life as a result of death. It won’t suddenly disappear, leaving you unscathed. So why not ask it to come and then you decide what role you will give it in your life 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.




Making Healthy Choices

healthy-food-817x1024What food you choose to put into your body affects your health.

The emotional turmoil of grief makes you vulnerable in a variety of ways. Why not ask another person to be your grief friend? Someone who can be honest with you about the decisions that you make in your volatile state?

What you choose to make a part of your grief journey is important as it will affect your emotional health and impact your future growth.


I have counseled many people who have made poor choices during their grief journey, which have resulted in painful consequences.

Bad habits can quickly turn into unhealthy decisions.  People say, “Wow, has that person ever changed. I have never known him/her to be that way or behave in that manner.”  Grief can be intense and move us in directions that lead to unhealthy consequences.

Connor, my grandson, can either have healthy snacks or ones that aren’t as good for his growing body.  His mom decides to give him good stuff to eat. And he loves it.

Having a good friend to keep you honest and accountable is a very smart decision to make as a grieving person.

It’s the healthy choice!

Trunk Wide Open

TrunkThe old man drove down the road with his trunk wide open. I was not sure he knew it, but others certainty did. People looked, a few pointed, others gave him a gentle beep on their car horn. He smiled at them, not apparently not realizing what the problem was and thinking perhaps how friendly people were on this early Friday morning.

I wanted to stop him and tell him but he was too far away, so I just drove on my way and smiled. I remembered a number of years ago that I had left my trunk wide open and somebody beeped their horn at me as a friendly reminder. I recall being a tad embarrassed at the time.

Why is it that so many people are so embarrassed to leave their “trunk wide open” the days following the death of a loved one?  We often choose to close up our lives, not revealing truly what is going on deep inside. We are frightened to expose ourselves to the rest of the world and yet we are hurting – really hurting. Close the trunk. Don’t let anyone into our internal world.  Don’t let anybody know what we are authentically experiencing.

I get tried of people telling me that nobody cares about how they feel in the days following a death and yet they make no effort to authentically reveal their hearts…closed trunks. We do have a role to play in our grief journey.  It is ours and nobody else’s job. We have to own it.

It may be necessary at times to keep our trunk wide open. We might be surprised who might stop us, track us down and listen to our story.

Find the Lizard


On a hike in Iao State Park in Maui, we came upon two young men pointing towards a rock in the forest informing us that if you looked closely,  you could spot a lizard.  Can you see it?

Erica and I commented on the amazing camouflage attributes of this little creature.  I began to think about how some people work hard at camouflaging their grief.

Why do people want to blend into society so quickly following the death of a person who is close to them? Why do so many want to just cover up what they are going through as if to believe that it is better to just get going on with life?

I once read  about a practice in a culture where upon losing a loved one, the grieving person tied a black band on their arm to clearly indicate they were in a season of mourning.  Is that an extreme?  The opposite is camouflage.

It seems to me that in hiding our grief we are taking away one of the most important components of entering back into life following loss, that is a community that needs to be involved and care.

Did you experience a community that cared for you during your time of grief?

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.]


Sometimes professional grief counseling might be required. But often all that is needed is just someone to be a friend. Regardless, the choice to find a grief friend is one of the most important and intentional decisions you can make in your healing process.

Healthy families care for each other.  But remember, each family member is grieving too and will need a grief friend outside of family to be that consistent presence and support.

Many people are unsure of what to say or do when dealing with a grieving person.  When you are considering a friend who could walk with you in your grief, you may wonder if they would ever consider this commitment. You may even question whether they have the right skills or experience to be of help to you.

They may not have the right skills but if they have a healthy character and personal integrity, the necessary skills can quickly be acquired.

Have you ever had a friend who has come alongside of you in your grief? What were the qualities in your friend that helped you?