I Can Only Imagine

“I Can Only Imagine”

It played on my iPad this morning and I cried.  Even though it’s a powerful song of hope, it was played at my wife’s funeral.  Her sister, my niece and our two daughters sang it beautifully.

Music is a very powerful medium of bringing us back to a person who has died.  It seems that most people to whom I talk to about grief, conclude that there are songs that were special and bring back memories of their loved one.

Grief returns through a song.  Happy and tears at the same time.

Over the years I have heard many different songs being played at many different funerals.  These songs connect the mourners to that person who died. They come in the “back door” of our hearts and help us remember.

Amazing Grace, Angels Amongst Us, Remember When, Tears in Heaven, I Come to the Garden Alone, How Great Thou Art, Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia…

Do you have a special song that connects you to that person who has died?  What happens when you hear it played on the radio?  What does it do in your heart?  Will you stop for a moment and take a few moments to remember?

What songs do you remember and why?

We’d love to hear your stories, comments and questions. Please click here to add yours to this post. Thanks!



I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately.  Is it significant in one’s grief journey?  The circumstances surrounding a death are very important to consider: a drunk driver, a murderer, a preventable accident, a suicide, a misdiagnosis – all of which result in death.  Indeed, feelings of anger are a fair, immediate response to such a death.  Difficult to forgive? Indeed…

What about that child or teenager who dies young or the mom who is taken away from her family?  Deep feelings of hopelessness and questions of “why” linger for days to follow.

And then there are those who are in the palliative care unit , waiting to die, family and friends surrounding them.  Is there time to forgive and be forgiven prior to one’s death?

Forgiveness is an important need in our hearts. We become embittered if we ignore that need. The response to forgive someone for what they have done isn’t easy and doesn’t come naturally. It’s a choice.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we gloss over the wrong that was done or the mistake that was made, but it does let the other person and our own hearts “off the hook”.

A number of years ago I picked up a hitchhiker just before to Christmas.  He was a young man returning home after an eight-year absence from his family. He had experienced a disagreement with his father and now his dad was dying.  He needed to return home to forgive and make things right before his dad died.

You may not have had an opportunity to forgive yet or to ask forgiveness, but you may want to choose forgiveness for the sake of your own healing.

I ask God daily to give me the desire to forgive when I don’t want to. Do you have a story of forgiveness? A transformation that happened because you chose life and relationship instead of unforgiveness? We want to hear your story.

We’d love to hear your stories, comments and questions. Please click here to add yours to this post. Thank you.

Moving Inward or Onward?

Some people find it uncomfortable to move into grief. Others try to ignore grief altogether. Some choose to “move on” quickly.

Much is being written about grief and mourning these days. The tragic mass-shooting in Connecticut of innocent children and teachers has caused a flurry of commentary on the topic.

People respond to grief according to their specific personality and worldview.  That’s why we hear so many varying opinions and solutions. Is there a right or wrong way to do grief?  Is there a right or wrong way for you?

You are who you are. Knowing what makes you unique will help you grieve well when you encounter loss.  It will also help you to be more sensitive in understanding another’s grief experience.

Your unique personality will determine how you process grief.  Are you an extrovert or an introvert?  Are you someone who needs to be surrounded by people? Or do you prefer your alone time? How might this single character trait affect your grief journey? Consideration of this one small factor plays a huge role in healthy grief.  And there are many others that make up your personality. Knowing what you need in grief is so important.

That’s why “moving inward” (or “knowing thyself” as the ancient Greeks would say) is the catalyst to eventually moving onward to a healthy and intentional grief.

Do you have an experience based upon your personality that helped you to understand or grieve well?

We’d love to hear your stories, comments or questions. Please click here to add yours.

The Christmas Familiar

The Christmas stocking still hangs over the fireplace.  It says “Mom”. This is our 5th Christmas without “Mom”, my wife of almost 25 years, and I still remember the first one.

Pam died in July 2008 so we planned a family holiday Christmas 2008 to “get away from it all”.  Then it hit us – the healthiest way to approach this first Christmas without Pam was to honor the familiar and not to try to make it “all brand new” and avoid the pain of her absence.

There seems to be a tug-of-war between letting go and hanging on to the deceased. This tension varies from person to person.  Some seem to let go easily while others hold on tightly to everything that reminds them of the person.

The season of Christmas is one of those significant times of the year that, for most people, seems to be packed full of important memories.  Keeping some reminder of your departed loved one in the foreground of your celebrations is very healthy, be it a tradition or an item that holds significance, and allows you and your family to remember this person you still love and miss

We also have a stocking hung on the fireplace for my new wife, Erica. But Pam, the mother of four children, still and always will have a place in our hearts.

The first Christmas without Pam, we all wrote a note to her and placed it in her stocking. They are still in the stocking and every Christmas, I take them out and read them to myself and thank God for this wonderful person we had in our life.  And then I thank God for my present wife, through whom He continues to bless me.

What “Christmas familiar” do you have in your home that honors the missing person around your Christmas tree?

We’d love to hear your stories, comments and questions. Please click here to add yours to this post.

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 www.intentionalgrief.com (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.]

Making People Happy

It was sad news. Devon’s college friend. His wife had died leaving a 3-month old baby without a mother. It happened so quickly.

I wonder if people will try making him “happy” this Christmas. This is what we often try to do, especially after someone’s death and during the most celebrative time of the year…Christmas.

Have you noticed how people become so kind and unusually cheerful during this time of the year? It seems that people are desperately hoping it’s going to be a joyful time because perhaps life hasn’t been all that joyful the past few months. It gives them permission to feel a certain “happiness” that will cover over anything else that makes them sad and lonely. But the happiness is short-lived.

Christmas will end and then what?

We glibly shout out the greetings “Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Have a wonderful time with your family and friends!”

But maybe not.

Will Devon’s friend be feeling particularly happy on December 25, 2012? What will the holiday season be like for him? What will be on his heart and mind as he gazes into his baby daughter’s eyes, celebrating her first Christmas…without…that’s a good definition of loss. “What will I be without this year that I had previously? And how will that impact my Christmas?”

Reflect upon that for a moment.

Then consider this truth….

One thing you will never be without is Emmanuel, “God with us”. Jesus was born so that we will never be without Him in our lives. And if we trust Him, we will never be separated from each other because of the gift of eternity.

Most likely, there is loss in people’s lives around you. Do you know what Christmas loss they might be experiencing? Are you trying to cheer them up?

It’s not our job to make people happy. Some people don’t want to be cheered up. They’re waiting for someone who is willing to acknowledge their sadness and lonely heart this Christmas.

Rather than saying “Merry Christmas”, we might want to ask, “Is anything different about Christmas for you this year?” That question could lead to a heartfelt response about their loss. It also gives you an opportunity to meet that person where they’re at, happy or sad.

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


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.


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?