Tag Archives: bereavement

Music: A Coping Mechanism During Bereavement


Many of us know that experiencing the loss of someone in our life can be devastating.  Each one of us processes death differently and in our own time.  Finding tools to assist us in this process can be a miraculous thing.  Music can be an amazing catalyst to assist us in processing challenging emotions such as anger, sadness, guilt and anxiety that may occur in the bereavement process.  Songs can be amazing messengers in these challenging times that provide comfort and allow us to bring our feelings to the surface. As we begin to deal with our emotions, the healing process can begin.  Here are a few suggestions to utilize music as a coping mechanism during bereavement. Continue reading

Better Late Than Never? Or Just “Better Late?”

A Facebook post on my wall the other day melted me. It was from a friend named Joanne, whom you may know as “Jill”, her pseudonym in my book.  I profiled her in the “I need to feel hope” chapter, detailing her joie de vivre, vitality, and relentless positivity in the face of dire prediction.

A stage three lung cancer survivor given a prognosis of just a few months, she’s still with us, gloriously so, some seven years later! We reconnected last spring after being out of touch for several years. I learned that her husband had died suddenly just a few weeks before, and though I planned on interviewing her again for the second edition of my book, I fell behind, largely because of my own beloved father’s sudden illness and death. She sent me a sweet message in the midst of my family’s crisis, but we fell out of touch again, as things often go.

I received a message from her the day after my birthday last month. She wrote, “I am so sorry to have been so late with condolences. You have your Dad’s smile. How nice to carry his legecy. Happy Birthday as well.” She explained that she almost never goes on Facebook; I visit infrequently as well because I simply don’t have time, and I suspect that she doesn’t either. She’s had a recurrence and as those of you who’ve fought cancer know, it’s a huge time and energy drain.

Joanne’s not the only friend who’s been late with condolences. Another associate-turned-friend, Jacquie, who brought me to her town to speak to her cancer support group a couple of years ago, sent me a lovely sympathy card several months after Dad’s death. I loved it, and feel guilty that I haven’t been able to find (or make) the time to thank her. I hope she reads this and understands.

Sometimes I think the adage should be “Better late” rather than “Better late than never.” Receiving condolences months after a loss can be as welcome and memorable as cards and calls early on. Support dies off, but losses deepen. I am feeling Dad’s physical absence more and more and more, especially with the approach of the holidays, and dread the grief that will surely wash over me like the imminent autumn rains.

Please, never doubt the verity of “Better late than never”, and one of my favorite new sayings, “Better late.” I plan on sending Joanne and others who’ve experienced losses this year another sympathy card in the next few days.

Always hope,

Author of
Help Me Live: 20 things people with cancer want you to know


PHOTO (cc): Flickr / scottwills

Suicide is Not Painless

Once someone you love commits suicide, you become a suicide survivor. That is what you are called. If someone you love dies of natural causes, or even in an accident, you are not called a survivor. Suicide is different. 
When someone you love kills themselves, you experience something we ( in the grief world) call "complicated mourning". In other words; it is not a straight-forward grieving process as it would be when you lose your 95 year old Grandma who dies peacefully in her sleep. Suicide was a choice. Suicide is often violent. It is also something that the person generally plans. 
Just over a year ago my baby brother took his own life. He was 40. I have now become a suicide survivor and it truly sucks. The feelings are not just sadness but also anger, denial, more anger and a little guilt. I am grateful that I don’t have a lot of guilt in that I do feel that I did all I could to help my brother deal with his issues. The fact that my, and the family’s, input wasn’t enough to turn him around is so sad.
I wish my brother could have come to his memorial before he took his life. If he could have been there to see how many people loved him, how many people were devastated at the thought of never seeing him again, and how many shattered lives he left in his wake, I have a hard time believing he would have actually gone through with it.
Over the years, as a psychotherapist, I have worked with many people who are suicide survivors. It is such a uniquely painful loss that I have always felt a bit powerless to help survivors heal. It helps some to think that we can never really know another’s pain. That the person we lost was so miserable here that they didn’t consider what their suicide would to do us. Or, if they did consider it, were in too much pain to let that stop them. 
I am fortunate that I don’t believe suicide is a sin. I don’t believe that if you commit suicide you are doomed and will go to hell for eternity. If you were in enough pain to end your life, I think you lived your hell right here. You get a free pass to heaven. 
I have missed my brother everyday since he died. I think I will always miss him.
If you’d like to make contact with Irene, you can find her here.

Where Does Your Grief Live Today?

Close your eyes. Take some nice deep breaths, and begin to scan your body with your inner awareness. Where do you feel your grief right now?

It may seem like an odd notion, that the emotion of grief could actually have a physical location. And yet I have found in leading my shamanic griefwork program that on any given day, most people can actually pinpoint it. I ask them to keep a journal and write down the answer to this question once a day. The answers can be very interesting, and they tell us a lot about what’s going on in our grief process.
Why do we do this? The purpose of shamanic griefwork is to use spiritual techniques to help us move through the grieving process with awareness and intention. So it’s useful to take a moment each day to make contact with your grief and give it your direct attention. When you engage with your grief in this simple way, you can track it and gain information about how you’re doing.
Metaphor is the language of the spirit.
So what is the metaphoric meaning behind the place where your grief is lingering? Is it stuck in your throat? Perhaps it’s telling you to speak up and express your feelings more fully today. Is the grief in the area of your stomach? You might ask yourself what’s been eating at you lately. Is it up in your head? Perhaps there are painful memories you’ve been keeping at bay. See what your grief has to say to you today.
Often people find that their grief tends to move around. One day it’s in their heart, and the next day it might be in their big toe. But if the grief stays put, it could be telling you that you’re stuck in a particular pocket of the grieving process, unable to move forward. It could be a cry for attention.
Here’s an example. About 10 years after my teenage son died, I suddenly developed asthma at the age of 55, out of the blue. I thought I had successfully completed my grieving process by that time, but some spiritual “excavating” revealed that my own difficulty breathing was deeply connected to the fact that my son suffocated to death.
My grief had gotten stuck in my lungs because of unresolved guilt over the fact that he had died in my own home, where he should have been safe from harm. Once I recognized the metaphor my body was showing me, I could work on healing that painful belief. Within a few months I was asthma-free.
Stuck grief can cause a lot of damage.
Think about how many times you’ve heard of someone dying of “a broken heart.” That’s more than a poetic phrase—it can be real. When you are aware of your grief and what it’s trying to tell you, you can address what may be keeping you stuck and continue your healing journey.

When Someone You Love Loses a Loved One

An Open Letter: 

With the AIG debacle looming, and bank bail-outs sending cortisol racing through the system of most Americans, the whole issue of loss and disappointment is ‘up’ in pretty big ways. The truth of the matter, however, was brought home this past week with the sudden death of Natasha Richardson. There is no bigger loss than the death of someone we love. A second runner-up is when someone we love loses someone they love.
This is the plight of Vanessa Redgrave, who’s lost her daughter, and Liam, his wife. Our hearts go out to them. When a child dies, regardless their age,  it is the most natural thing in the world to reach out, to struggle for words, and ways of comforting the family. Unfortunately, there are things that you can do which do not comfort, but only deepen the pain of the death. Lest this be inflicted on Natasha’s family, and those you know, I share the following.
Before my own son was killed 18 years ago yesterday, I had studied the bereavement process, done grief work with Elisabeth Kubler Ross, and worked with a number of bereaved parents. That said, I knew nothing. Not until my own son was lost. In fact, a few hours after he died, I remember saying to my friend: “This is surreal. I feel like I’ve gotten trapped in the audience of that Oprah Winfrey show on bereaved parents. This can’t be happening in my life!” I also remember telling my 8 year old daughter that her brother was gone. I will never forget her tears, or words, when she said: “Mommy, it’s raining in my heart.”
So, if you know someone who has lost a child, and you feel inept, know that you are not alone. No words, no acts can take away the canyon in their heart. Trust me. The process takes a lifetime. Death of your child, spouse, family member is something you do not ever ‘get over.’ You either give up on life when it happens, or you choose to grow through what has happened, and go on to deepen your contribution. Before Elisabeth’s death, I shared with her that I’ve found a Sixth Step to her five step bereavement cycle. The sixth is all about creation. It does not happen overnight. 
What Not to Do:
1. Never, ever say “He/she is in a better place.” That may comfort you, if you are a believer, but it does not touch the fact that your friend is sitting in the middle of the worst experience a parent can haveInstead, if it is honest, simply say something like “There are no words for what you must be experiencing.” Stay out of your head, and go into your heart.
2. Never, ever keep a stop-watch on someone’s grieving. You do not know, anymore than they do, how long healing may take. Instead, focus on staying present with the bereaved. Here is the time to listen.
3. Never, ever trivialize what has happened with your own storyInstead, keep your focus on their loss.
4. Never, ever refer to who died in impersonal waysInstead, use the name of the child. You may feel uncomfortable, but bereaved parents, especially over the long haul suffer a private pain because they fear the world will forget their baby.
5. Never, ever forget other children in the situation. Not only have they lost a sibling, but they lose their parents psychologically during grieving, regardless how aware the parents may be. Instead, spend time with the child. For young children, bring color crayons, and suggest a picture. This may be something they would like to tuck into the garments of the child who died, if there is to be burial, or cremation. Do not interpret the child’s reaction to mean they are not grieving. Children grieve in different ways. Let them.
6. Never, ever forget that holidays and anniversaries carry a particular pain. (Nearly no one remembers the second anniversary of a child’s death. It is a great time for a card that says you’ve not forgotten. Instead, remember when you are celebrating rites of passage with your own child, e.g. graduations, weddings, grandchildren, that this brings a sting to your friend, no matter how much they might love your crew. Don’t be afraid to mention the name of the child who has died at these times. Let your friend know you appreciate this must ‘bring up’ a lot for them.
7.  Never, ever forget that, as long as you are speaking from your heart, that your love is invaluable. You cannot err. Relax. Breathe. This, too, shall pass.
8. Never, ever assume that it is impossible to begin life anewInstead, know that it may take a great deal of time and concentrated work, but, just as spring follows winter, life can be reborn with a focus, and support, and guidance from those who have been through the wringer.
9. Never, ever discount your own sense of things. If your friend is starting to isolate, or act in unusual ways, get professional help. They may be suffering complicated bereavement.  Instead of saying nothing, investigate parental bereavement groups, such as Compassionate Friends. Be a friend.
So, if you are listening, Natasha’s family, I want you to know that my heart aches with yours. I did not know your girl, Natasha. But, I do know how it was when I lost my own son. Certainly, every loss, and every child is different. Natasha appears to have been a true Light for your hearts. In her honor, I want you to know that a candle burns on my mantle. May you each find your own way through this ‘Valley of the Shadow,’ and be uplifted by her Spirit.


What do you write to someone who’s bereaved?

Ironically, just two days after writing about sending love, prayers, and pure compassion when you can’t be there for someone physically — or when it seems words just won’t do — the most beautiful array of solicitous messages appeared in my email box. They were expressions of sympathy, support, and hope meant not for me, but for someone in a private, relatively small Google group to which I belong. The person, who I’ll call “Beth” to protect her privacy, had experienced an unthinkable loss, and posted a message about it, which we all received and of course wanted to respond to.

Though I won’t share names or details (I’ve created pseudonyms for the comforters as well), I do want to share some of what people wrote. Perhaps when you can’t find the words, these simple messages of sympathy and empathy can help you comfort someone who’s experienced a loss. Such expressions are like a soothing salve; they can’t heal the deep wounds, but they may help assuage the pain.

I hope these online missives of compassion hearten you as they did me, and please let us know: what do you write to someone who has lost a loved one, when there is no greeting card to pave the way? And has anyone written something very special to you during a time of bereavement that you’d like to share?

With hope,

Beth, when I read your message my heart sank knowing how devastated you must feel. Know that those of us across the country who know you through this group are all there with you, and are here to give you strength when you need it. You are in my prayers daily.

Dear Beth,
I cannot comprehend how difficult this time must be for you. I am so, so sorry. Know that we are all thinking of you, and wishing you strength as you deal with so much grief.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and yours during this difficult time. I cannot imagine the grief you must be experiencing. May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Dearest Beth,
My heart breaks for you, and I am sending so much love and so many prayers. Thank you for letting us know.
With deepest sympathy,

I am so sorry for your loss. You and yours are in my prayers during this time of great loss.

Beth, I’m so deeply sorry to hear of your loss. My heart, thoughts and prayers are with you during this very sad time. Cindy

Beth, I’m so deeply sorry to hear of your loss. My heart, thoughts and prayers are with you during this very sad time. Janice

Dear Beth,
I can only imagine the shock and devastation that you must be experiencing. I am so sorry. I hope you will feel the strength and love from the many people who care about you and your family.
Peace and prayers,

I am sorry for the loss of your mother and brother, you and your family will be in my prayers.

I send my condolences to you and your family as you face this tragedy. May you maintain hope for a brighter future through the sorrow.

I am so sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

This post originally appeared on Lori’s CarePages blog, "what helps. what hurts. what heals."
For more information about how to support people with cancer or are suffering, please visit www.LoriHope.com.

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