First Time and Some

Experts in grief often talk about the “firsts” being the most difficult to go through as a grieving person. There is some truth to this, but grief doesn’t have an end date.  To believe that you will not experience those deep feelings of loss in the years that follow, especially during significant times of the year, is unrealistic.

Christmas is a powerful time because it’s all about relationships – one of the few times of the year that most people make a big effort to get together. The person whom you want there is still not there after two, five or even ten years.  You still remember. You still miss.  It’s okay.

It’s important to hold on to a few special traditions that have been part of your life previously and help remember that special person.

Our children still make their Mom’s favorite Christmas cookies, put up the memory tree Christmas decorations and bring out the special Christmas books she used to read them as children.

Memories flood in like tidal waves.  Love is felt deeply.  A relationship of significance is still remembered and the opportunity to talk about hope found in Jesus is shared. This is all good.

How will you remember your loved one this year?  What will you do?   What traditions help you to remember this person? How might hope be a part of your experience?

The Shovel

Lawrence died.  It was sudden and unexpected.  I went to visit his family.  It was a sad time.

The next morning, I received a phone call from Wayne, asking if I wanted to come down to the church.  Some of the men were meeting there.  I didn’t know the purpose, but I went anyway.

As I drove up to the church that mid-morning, I noticed a number of cars and trucks lined up across the front of the church.  “Quite a few vehicles here,” I said to myself.  I parked, and then walked towards the steel gate in an attempt to find the men and understand the reason for their invitation.

I found them. They were sitting outside, next to the church in the graveyard. They were in a circle and were chatting.  I soon found out why they had invited me to join them. The purpose for their gathering was to dig the grave of their dear brother, Lawrence.  “Good morning, Pastor!” they said to me, each in turn shaking my hand.  We talked as each one took a turn with the shovel. And then Edwin, Lawrence’s son, handed the shovel to me. “Your turn,” Edwin said.  And I dug the dirt, throwing it to the side against a large heap to be placed on the coffin later.

It was an amazing experience for me that day, as the young pastor of Zion Lutheran Church.  The gathering of community to share the burden and grief of one our church family members was moving. To be included in the process of mourning, whatever form that took, was powerful.

We all talked and shared a few stories as each one was given the opportunity to use the shovel.  A short time later, the women of the congregation showed up with refreshments.  This included Lawrence’s wife, Julie, and their daughter-in-law, Lynn.  We spent precious time together.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” says the writer of the letter to the Galatians. It all came to life. For me it meant sharing the load, taking the shovel, offering a hand, caring for each other as the body of Christ.

The funeral was filled with hopefulness because Lawrence was a believer and had a strong faith in Jesus. That kind of hope is powerful in the face of death. As I spoke those final words, “Go in Peace,” Edwin got up, picked up the shovel again, threw some dirt on the grave of his father and passed the shovel on to the next person, who did likewise.

And then we had lunch.

The Bench

bench2

If a bench could speak this one could.

I returned to the cabin where our family had enjoyed over 17 years together. It was the summer home that we had built ourselves in stages as finances became available to us. We all miss this home-away-from-home immensely.

I wanted to return with Erica, my wife of two years, so that she could experience this haven. It’s the place that my four children, now adults, speak of as the most important part of their childhood and the key component in our family bonding.  We loved the cabin and it was one those places where their Mom, Pam, relaxed and enjoyed the precious time with her children each summer, away from the hustle and bustle of life back in the town with four active kids.

I knew that the return to the cabin would be difficult.  To say that building and maintaining the cabin had been a labour of love would be an understatement.  We had all sacrificed a lot in order to enjoy such a gift.

As we drove and parked behind the cabin, I noticed some changes. Nothing remains the same forever.  And yet, there were some things that remained, as if time stood still.

“This is the deck I built!” and I’d tell Erica the story.   “And here’s the old basket ball net! The kids spent hours shooting hoops here. And look! There on the beach – that’s the sand box that kids loved to play in.”  And then I stopped.  I smiled and a flood of memories of Pam, my wife of almost 25 years, came to mind like a torrent.

The bench, which I had built out of old left over lumber, was still sitting in its original spot out on the edge of the beach looking toward the Lake.  It was there that Pam would often sit, cheering the kids on in volleyball, watching them come in for a landing on the wake board or encouraging them to build another sand castle.

If a bench could speak, this one could – and it did!

As you enjoy your summer holidays, there may places to which you return where memories waft past you like the breeze that kisses your face.  Stop and remember them. Tell the story again of that person whom you miss and still love.

This is good and intentional grief.

Friendship

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?

Personality

You have a unique personality.  You will look at grief and proceed into it based upon your personality.

The reason why grief is so complicated is because you and I are complicated.  You can’t place a grief journey in a tidy little box or suggest that it will play out in a certain way. No one’s grief is like yours because no one is like you. And so, when people try to understand and identify with you in your grief journey, they are coming from their own perspective and personality.

There are a number of factors that will determine your approach to grief.  If you know what these are, you can better enter into grief knowing confidently how you may respond based upon your unique personality.

Recognizing, understanding and intentionally letting others know your unique personality will help them to better understand you and walk with you in your grief.

Based upon your personality, what do you think would make your grief journey unique?

Transformation

Apart from the journey of dying, grief could be the deepest and most difficult place that you will enter into as a human being. How you approach this journey will turn you inside out and transform you as a person.

If grief is a deep place, why wouldn’t it bring something to you that you have never discovered before?  Could your grief journey become a place of transformation that could be beneficial?

You will be changed. Grief has pushed you into a deep place where you don’t often visit.  There will be things to discover about yourself that you never knew.  This is an opportunity for life-changing possibilities even amidst the inner turmoil.

Will you be able to view your grief as the final gift given by the person who has died? What have you learned from your grief journey that is significant thus far?

Cycles

Grief can sneak up and hit you from behind.  And sometimes this happens months or years later.  Once in a while an intense emotion that you thought had disappeared surprises you once again.  Grief is cyclical.  It can and will return. When this happens, you need to know that this is normal.  So don’t fight it.

Creation in its very design is orderly in fashion.  The sun and moon rise and set; days come and go; seasons have their time.  Why wouldn’t grief return for a reason and purpose?  It may be necessary for your heart.

Once we recognize that grief is cyclical, we begin to understand unexpected grief moments as significant, realizing they may be of great importance to our day.

The next time a grief moment returns, be intentional and ‘sit in it’ for a while.  Ask if there is a reason why it has returned and why it might be intrinsic to your growth.

Have you ever had grief return unexpectedly?  Were you surprised by its intensity?  Did you wonder why it came back again?  Do you have a real example of this that could be helpful for others?

Planning

Planning for transition points in one’s grief journey is smart.

Life seems to come to a halt when we are grieving.  We are not sure how to re-enter life with all of its major changes and decisions.  Too much, too soon!

We can either get swept along in the crowd, without much control, or we can choose to enter back into life on our own terms and at our own pace. In order to do this, it is important to prepare, plan and proceed intentionally.

What have been some of the transition points in your grief journey?  What are some things that have helped you to transition well?  Looking back, would you have done anything differently?  What have you learned that can help others?  Please share your story.

A major transition point in my life was getting re-married. After almost 25 years of marriage and previous to those, 5 years of dating, I was frightened.  I had 4 children, an extended family and had experienced an unbelievable marriage with Pam.

I needed to consider how this would affect not just my life but all those people around me.  I needed to plan forward and anticipate what could happen if I didn’t put things into place and what wonderful things could happen if I did.

After Pam’s funeral and just prior to her Mom and Dad leaving to go home, Pam’s Mom came to me and wrapped her arms around my body.  She cried.  She said, “Rick, don’t forget us! Please!”  I said, “Mom I will never forget you.  I love you and you will always be my mom and dad and I will always share my life with you.”

She left that day and I did make an intentional effort to spend time with them on the phone, in person and on significant dates.  And then came a new woman in my life.  This was a transition point of great significance.  I planned it out well. I thought about who it would affect, what kind of responses there might and what I needed to do to make it less intense and an easier transition.

Helping Myself

Grief is often faced alone. What makes it even more difficult is not knowing how to face it. Here are five things you can learn about that can help you make the journey easier. To learn more about each one, click on the title of that section. For more ideas and stories that illustrate that section, click on that title in the Tags section in the right sidebar.

1. Planning

Life seems to come to a halt when we are grieving. we can choose to enter back into life on our own terms and at our own pace. In order to do this, it is important to prepare, plan and proceed intentionally.

2. Cycles

Grief is cyclical.  It can and will return. When this happens, you need to know that this is normal.  Don’t fight it. Learn how to work with it.

3. Transformation

Apart from the journey of dying, grief could be the deepest and most difficult place that you will enter into as a human being. How you approach this journey will turn you inside out and transform you as a person.

4. Personality

You will look at grief and proceed into it based upon your personality. Learning about your unique personality and sharing that with others can help you to better deal with your grief.

5. Friendship

Having someone to share this journey can be tremendously helpful. How can you find and help someone become a Grief Friend to you?

A Warm Welcome

This web site is about you.  The principles that I share come from my best teachers: the everyday people who have shared their experiences of grief with me. I have collected them so that we can continue to learn from these stories.

I believe in Intentional Grief.  There are some things that can be done in one’s grief process that are helpful and other things that a friend can do that are helpful. Learn what these are in this website and add your comments and stories.

I’m interested in hearing from professionals and lay people who would like to share insightful information in the area of grief, death and dying.

If you have an experience or a new perspective, let’s talk together in order to provide effective information that can be helpful to people facing grief.

This blog is not intended as a place to argue your opinions but rather to share your stories and experiences. As such, the language you use should express your own understanding and not be critical of another’s experience. Asking a question is always more powerful than giving an answer.

I look forward to your involvement as we learn together.