Friday, August 31, 2007

Interfaith Memorial Service

We would like to extend an invitation to attend our annual Interfaith Memorial Service, held on Monday, September 17, 2007 at 7:30 p.m. at Presbyterian Church of Newton, High Street, New Jersey.  This memorial service is open to anyone in the community who wishes to commemorate loved ones who have died.  It will be an evening to remember, to gain strength and comfort.  There will be clergy from the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths.  We will have songs, readings, and a candle-lighting ceremony. 

You  may send a loved one's name to be included in our brochure and to be read during the service.  As your loved one's name is read, you may come up to light a candle in remembrance of them.  It is a beautiful and honoring ceremony. 

If you would like to attend, and/or have a loved one's name included in the ceremony, please send the following to the Joseph T. Quinlan Bereavement Center, c/o Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice, 99 Sparta Avenue, Newton, New Jersey 07860, Attention:  Diana Sebzda:

Your name, address and telephone number.  Your loved one's name, their relationship to you and a phonetic spelling for pronunciation, if necessary.  If you wish to send a donation, that would be greatly appreciated and acknowledged. 

You may also call in this information at 800-882-1117 or e-mail at


Friday, July 27, 2007

Grieving the loss of fictional characters




I read, with interest, the article published in the July 12th edition of USA Today.  It was titled, “Fans’ teary eyes are all on ‘Potter’ – Saying goodbye to characters and series, can cause some real-life grief.”  The much anticipated arrival of the final book is here.  However, by the time I post this article, some of the more ambitious readers will know which characters were sacrificed for literary glory.


Too well I remember the sadness I felt when I read Charlotte’s Web as a child and learned of Charlotte’s demise.  When we grow up, we seem to be protected, to some degree, of life’s lessons, such as sickness and death.  Charlotte’s Web was the most memorable demise of a character to me.  Of course, there IS Bambi!  Today, the ongoing debate continues as to whether this film is appropriate for children to watch because of Bambi’s mother’s horrific death.  And then there are the HUNTERS!  Oh no! 


As I got older, I got sucked into the Clan of the Cave Bear Series (please don’t judge me) and still to this day hope that Jean Auel will produce one more tome to satisfy my curiosity about what happens to Ayla, Jondular and their baby.  Does she meet her son?  Us Enquiring Minds need to know!  And howmany romance novel readers are out there?  Who hasn’t got sucked into a Nora Roberts series and felt the sad disappointment of not being able to continue reading about these lives that we became emotionally invested in? 


So if we adults are prone to this kind of sadness when a series ends, or a fictional character dies, than how are the children supposed to handle these emotions?  I don’t think avoidance is the answer.  These books and movies provide great teachable moments to our children about the different things life has to offer – the good AND the bad.  I always like to talk about the movie with the younger ones, in the car, on the drive home.  I ask TONS of questions – “What was your favorite part?” “What was your least favorite and why?” “What did you learn from the movie, if anything?”  If you, as the adult, know there was an important message and the children aren’t getting it – they can be gently prodded in that direction by your questions.  If the topic of death, dying or other unpleasant topics come up, you can answer them appropriately using the movie they have just seen as a guideline. 


The USA Today article stated that “no one has the right to scorn someone else’s grief, even if it’s for a fictional character . . .” They went on to describe the emotional outpouring of global grief when Princess Diana had died and further stated, “It’s not any more of a pretend emotion to mourn a fictional character than to mourn a princess you never met who subject you were not.”  With that in mind, you  may be better equipped to know what kind of help and emotional support to offer to your child when their favorite fictional character meets with an untimely death.


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.



Friday, July 13, 2007

Dealing with death and loss as we grow older





I would like to start first with the definitions of Grief and Loss:


Grief – The normal process of reacting to a loss.  The loss may be physical (such as a death), social (such as a divorce), or occupational (such as a job).


Loss – The disappearance of something cherished, such as a person, possession or property.


Now, I would like to explore the typical symptoms of grief.  I don’t want to make you go to the beginning of my blogs, so we’ll just go over some of the basics.  Grief can affect our behavior, thoughts, emotions and bodies.  Often there are more than one symptom experienced in each category and often there are symptoms experienced in all categories at the same time.  Some symptoms that we can experience, especially as an older person:


Behavioral:  Sleeplessness, loss of appetite, crying, nightmares, sighing, listlessness, absent mindedness, social withdrawal and extreme quietness.


Cognitive:  Inability to concentrate, difficulty making a decision, self-destructive thoughts, low self-image, preoccupation, confusion and disbelief.


Emotional:  Anger, guilt, sadness, depression, helplessness, fear, loneliness and anxiety.


Physical:  Headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, increased illness, empty feeling in body, tightness in chest, muscle weakness and stomachaches.


Next, let’s look at the types of losses we can experience in our lives as we grow older.


Death:  As we grow older, the deaths of loved ones become inevitable.  Often death can occur in the natural order of things, such as a pet may die or a parent may die, but many times death does not follow the natural order of things and we may experience the death of a spouse, a sibling or a friend.


Independence:  As life changes around us, we may find that we have to make decisions that will alter our ability to stay living in an independent nature.  Our families may take on the role of decision maker in regard to our finances, healthcare and environmental living conditions. 


Health:  It’s a fact of life that as we grow older, our health may deteriorate as well.  We may begin to have achy joints, arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.  We may find that as a result of these health changes we are no longer able to perform at the level we used to.


Energy:  Often our energy levels are not as high as they were in our younger days.  We find we often have to take breaks to catch our breath, or rest due to fatigue.  We might also find that we can not stay active for as long as we were able to before.


Appearance:  I know, this is vain – but it’s a human fact of life that most of us are in a constant battle against wrinkles and graying, thinning hair.  As the signs of aging become physically evident, we find ourselves struggling to accept the fact that we have no control over this aging business.


Home:  When we can no longer stay in our home due to failing health, or perhaps due to the death of a spouse and finances no longer enable us to stay in the home, we are forced to sell our home and move.  The move may be to a smaller condo or apartment, or even a step-facility where we have to downsize considerably and leave a place that holds so many memories. 


Finances:  There are times when our failing health costs us tremendous amounts of money in doctors’ visits, medications or perhaps surgeries.  We may not have the same medical insurance we used to and have exorbitant out of pocket expenses.  Perhaps our financial planning wasn’t up to snuff and we find our retirement funds dwindling due to high cost of living and other unexpected expenses.  Or we may find ourselves in a stressful financial situation due to the death of a spouse who was the main bread-winner in the family. 


Spiritual:  When we experience losses of any kind, we may find ourselves experiencing a spiritual crisis.  That loss of faith that we used to rely on – believe in, can leave us in a very lonely place.


Retirement:  Many individuals have a very hard time in retirement.  Traditionally, it is looked upon with anticipation and enjoyment, waiting for the day to finally come when we can realize all of our dreams and plans.  We often plan to occupy our time with all the hobbies that we wanted to do and never found the time while employed, or plan extensive travel plans with our spouses to enjoy some quality time now that there are no familial or career pressures.  However, the reality is that we may find a lot of time on our hands and we may not know how to fill it and find ourselves questioning our self-worth and productivity.  This is a time where statistics show that depression can be high and relationships can become quite stressed.


What happened to those symptoms of grief that we were talking about?  I didn’t forget – I would like you to reflect on these types of losses I just described and imagine how you would feel, or think about how you have felt, when experiencing these losses.  Write down the words that come to mind when you think about the deaths in your life, your independence, health, your energy levels, appearance, your home, finances, spirituality and your retirement, if applicable.  For me, I think of fear, anxiety, sadness, frustration, anger, depression and doubt.  Take this list of words and go back to the symptoms of grief – notice anything?  You don’t have to experience a loss just through death to experience some of these symptoms of grief.  It is described as “as we grow older, we experience little losses or ‘little deaths.’”  Before I go on about this new concept of “little deaths” let’s take a look a look at the types of death we could experience. 


Parental:  This would follow in the natural order of things, but can still be experienced as a painful loss, particularly if we had a close relationship with our parent.  Also, if we were the primary caregiver for our parent, we may feel the loss more acutely because they were such a big part of our everyday living.


Spousal:  Again, this loss may be felt more acutely if we had a close relationship with our spouse.  Some spouses do everything together and the loss of our spouse leaves us alone and without social support. 


Child:  This is a loss that definitely does not follow in the natural order of things.  This is one of the most painful losses a person can endure. 


Family Member:  This too, can be a loss that does not follow the natural order of things.  This could be a sibling, in-law, cousin, niece and nephew, etc.


Pet:  Although this may be a loss that follows in the natural order of things, just by the nature that we typically outlive our pets, it still can be experienced as a very painful loss.  Particularly if the pet was treated like a child, or if the pet was the sole companion for a person. 


Friend:  The loss of a friend can be very painful.  Particularly if this was our best friend, our only social support or our confidante.  The uncomfortable aspect of losing one of our friends is that it tends to make us face our own mortality. 


The complication we can find ourselves in is when we experience these “little deaths” and then we also experience one of these other types of death.  When someone experiences back to back losses, or has not resolved a loss issue before another one comes along, we can experience complicated grief or mourning.  Symptoms of complicated grief are:  chronic symptoms of grief, exaggerated symptoms of grief, delayed symptoms of grief and masked symptoms of grief.  If you’re not sure if you have complicated grief, you can ask yourself a few questions.


  1. How long have you been feeling the effects of grief?
  2. Are your grief reactions interfering with your activities of daily living?
  3. Did your grief reactions surface after some time has passed since your loss?
  4. Are you experiencing symptoms that you think are NOT related to your loss?


There are other bereavement issues we can face besides complicated grief.  Such as, when we are forced to face our own mortality.  This can be particularly bothersome as we grow older and more friends die.  Often, people find themselves with no friends and no social supports and then begin to wonder why they are still here and what are they supposed to do now.  Facing our own mortality can lead to fear, anxiety and depression. 


As we grow older we also start to question our productivity and generativity.  This simply means that we are not sure how productive we can be anymore and wonder what we could possibly contribute to society.  This line of thinking can lead us to devalue ourselves or fear that society devalues us as well.  We can have low self-esteem, low self-image and this too can lead to anxiety, depression and we may find ourselves withdrawing from the world around us.


Part of devaluation is the thought that we are not valued by the people in our lives.  We feel that we are burdens to our family and as we begin to lose our independence and family takes over more of the decision making for us, we begin “learned helplessness.”  It’s almost as if the fight has left us and we don’t want to cause any more hassles or be any more of a burden than we already are, so we just clam up and go with the flow – whether it’s what we want or not.


Finally, when we start to experience these “little deaths”, actual death, complicated grief and other bereavement issues, these can all lead to “bereavement overload.”  Unless, we can find some good coping strategies, we may go down a dangerous path of depression, decreased health and social isolation.


A good perspective on coping strategies is to think of them as prevention for avoiding bereavement overload.  Firstly, focus on your health.  Are you taking good care of yourself?  Pay attention to your nutrition and exercise (within your capabilities, of course).  Keep regular visits with your doctor, take your prescribed medications, keep track of your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels.  Maintain a sense of self.  You have value and you have a lot to contribute to your family, to society and to the world.  You have an important role as an older person.  You have younger generations looking up to you as a role model, as a story teller, as the person to hand down family and cultural information to continue the family legacy. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of characteristics or ideals would you like to promote?  How do you want to be remembered?  What kind of meaning do you want from your life?  What kind of footprints will you leave behind?  The more active you become physically and mentally, the more you will be able to maintain your independence.  If you have any regrets, now is the time to change things, to make amends.


If you would like more resources, I hope you find the following links helpful:  (1-888-687-2277), 601 E. Street NW, Washington, DC 20049


Remember – “. . . But the greatest of human possibilities remain to the very end of life. . .” By Robert Butler.



Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Suicide Survivors


“If he loved me as much as he said he did, why did he kill himself?  Why would he do this to me?”


 “I know my dad was sick, but how can someone be so sick that they don’t care about their kids anymore?  Didn’t he know how sad I would be?”


“They said it was suicide, but I think it might have been an accident.  My sister would never have killed herself on purpose.”


“He knew I was on my way to his house.  It’s as if he purposely killed himself at that moment so that I would be the one to find him.  Why would a father do that to his son?”


“I came home from school and found her dead on the couch.  I got scared and called my dad, but we couldn’t save her.  They said she took too many pills.  I don’t understand that.”


“We never fight.  But we did that night.  Those angry words were the last words I said to him and now he killed himself.  How do I live with that?”



These are all people that have one thing in common – they are Suicide Survivors.  A Suicide Survivor is not someone who tried to complete suicide and survived.  They are the loved ones left behind to grieve the loss of someone who has completed suicide. 


Whenever someone loses a loved one, it is extremely painful, but there seems to be some losses that are a bit more complicated than others.  Losing a child is one example, losing a loved one to suicide is another example.  Why should losing a loved one to suicide be more complicated?  Because of all the questions that have no answers, the guilt, the anger and the blame.  Not only is a suicide survivor dealing with typical grief issues, but they have all this other stuff going on as well. 


When we counsel someone who is going through the grief process we advocate the use of support systems to help talk about the loved one and cry about the loved one.  In most cases, this can be a difficult task because the griever does not want to burden their family or friends.  For a suicide survivor this task is even more difficult because it can be difficult talking about the suicide.  Perhaps they fear that they will be judged, or their loved one will be judged.  Also, the details of the death may be difficult to talk about.  People often share how their loved one died, but in the case of suicide, these details can make people quite uncomfortable and the suicide survivor picks up on these subtle cues and learns to keep these details to themselves. 


When you take away these support systems from grievers, there is no way for them to movethrough the grief process and everythingstays bottled up inside.  This can lead to a prolonged grief process, physical and emotional reactions.  This is where a grief counselor can be most effective.  The suicide survivor needs to talk about their loved one and the details of the loved one’s death.  I try to provide an environment where they feel safe, where they feel they can say anything they want and they won’t be stopped or judged.  Many times, that is all they need, just to be able to say all their thoughts and feelings OUT LOUD.  I also try to provide an educational setting where the suicide survivor can eventually accept that their loved one’s death was not the survivor’s fault, but a choice made by their loved one.  I wish there were one case that I could share, but the nature of the suicide survivor is that they often maintain a relationship with me, as needed, throughout the years.  I believe this is due to the complicated nature of their grief. 


Are there success stories?  Sure!  If a suicide survivor can learn to decrease the expectations they have of themselves in grief, they are a success story.  If they learn to shift the responsibility of their loved one’s death off of themselves and onto the loved one, they are a success story.  If they are able to share the memories of their loved one, without fear of being judged, they are a success story.  If they can remember ALWAYS that we do the best we can, with the information we have, at that time, they are a success story.   Most importantly, if they can learn to love and trust again, they are a success story.



Friday, June 22, 2007

Children and Art Therapy




When observing a child, one can typically see playfulness, smiles, laughter and sheer joy in the world around them.  Children live in the moment; every thought, every feeling, easily readable upon their faces.  That is why they are such a pleasure to watch.  We adults can relive those carefree, playful moments through them.  The child does not yet realize that the world can be a harsh and demanding place.  Until someone they love has died.  Their expressions are no less readable then.  When a child is grieving, one can typically see tears, fear, sadness and anger.  The world where they had once been carefree now has been shaken, and the unfailing trust they had in the world, has now been irrevocably altered. 


As a grief counselor, I feel for all of my clients in their pain, but it is the young people that affect me the most.  Logically, I know that children are not exempt from the pain of losing a loved one, but it still does not seem fair that their innocent world should be changed in such a way.  It saddens me to see a child who is so depressed that they seem to be physically trying to draw themselves inward, away from the world.  Or so sad that they cannot muster a smile, or enthusiasm, for the things that once brought them happiness.  Also, to see a child so angry; anger that can be seen in their eyes, in their defiant manner, in their abusiveness to their siblings and friends.  Children are often frustrated by these feelings because they do not like feeling this way, but are unable to stop or understand it.


Depending on the age of the child, they are often unable to put their thoughts and feelings into words.  This inability to express their emotions can lead to behavioral and health issues.  Many of the children that come to us complain of headaches and stomachaches, and the parents, or teachers, usually describe a decline in study habits and acting out behaviors.  It is critical that a child has support and help to be able to externalize these internal thoughts and feelings. 


Art therapy is an excellent way to connect with children and give them an opportunity to express their emotions in a safe and healthy way.  Our support groups and individual counseling sessions are designed to offer these opportunities to young people.  Through the use of creativity, the children can become involved in a variety of art projects that help give voice to what they are feeling.  It never ceases to amaze me when a young person is very reluctant to talk to me, yet when they become involved in an art project, I can see them visibly relax and they are able to open up and share.  For the very young, I think they even take themselves by surprise when they realize they are offering more than they had intended. 


Any time I work with young people, I am humbled and privileged by the act of their choosing to trust me with their most painful and personal thoughts and feelings.   I know it can be difficult for a parent to be able to offer honest information regardingdying, death and grief, so often it is just avoided in the home.  I try to offer an environment where the young people know this is the place where they can come and ask anything they need to without fear of being shut down or judged.  Through my experiences, I feel that children are capable of hearing the truth, in an age appropriate manner – and even appreciate being given the information. 


I would like to share a recent case that was very rewarding to me.  I have been working with an eight-year-old girl who lost her father to cancer.  Through our sessions, and the use of art therapy, she has been able to share her anger toward God, her frustrations at being the eldest sibling and her inability to focus at school due to her sadness.  During one of our most recent sessions, we were making beaded bracelets.  Most young people make bracelets for family members, friends or in memory of their loved one.  She made a bracelet for me!  The bracelet stood for “creativity”, “love”, and “strength.”  When I asked why she picked out those words for me she explained, “Creativity – because you are creative and always think of fun things for us to do.  Love – because you have to have lots of love to be able to do this kind of work and want to help other people who are hurting.  And Strength – because you gained strength after your mom died.”  Wow!  Her mother also shared that she is using the same concepts she learned in our Children’s Support Group to help a friend who is struggling with a loss.  Wow! 


This is what it is all about.  Helping a young person put a smile back on their face.  Helping them learn resiliency and to regain the ability to reinvest in life.  Helping them learn to identify and externalize their thoughts and feelings.  Helping them learn healthy coping strategies.  If you get a bracelet and a hug also, well that just sweetens the pot. 


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.


Friday, June 1, 2007

Are you a pet owner?


If you are a pet owner, then you already know how intertwined our pets can be in our daily lives.  It’s often not until they are gone do we truly realize how much of our daily lives they were a part of.  This can be particularly true if in our pet’s final days, they were very sick and required extensive care from us.  Pet owners may feel their pet’s loss most acutely when it was time to be fed and their pets performed special rituals that we adored in order to be fed, on their terms and on their schedule.  Another time that their loss can be acutely felt is when we arrived home from a long day at work and our pets had a special way of greeting us at the door, and seemed to wipe out the stress of our busy day.  Then again, as we relaxed during the evening and our pets came for the daily snuggle or cuddle.  Or finally, when it was bed time and we couldn’t get to sleep without feeling the warmth and heaviness of their bodies lying across our legs, or on our bladders.  Most of us not daring to disturb our pets, or their comfort, in spite of our discomfort.  It is this kind of care and devotion to our special pets that we miss when they are gone.


You need support for this loss, just as in any other type of loss.  You need to talk about your pet, share your memories and your pictures, with anyone who will listen and appreciate how special your pet was.   Pet loss support groups are ideal for this kind of support.  I have personally experienced a unique difference in people who have experienced a pet loss versus a human loss.  Pet owners almost always bring pictures of their pets to the first visit of a counseling session, or on the first day of group, to share with others and to tell the story of their beloved pet.  As pet owners we want everyone to know why this pet was so special. 


As an animal lover, I say that all pets are special.  In support of my opinion, current marketing statistics reveal that more people are treating their pets like family members, in particular, like their own children.  As such, more veterinarians, and their staff, are becoming trained in anticipatory grief and bereavement support for their clients. 


If the veterinary facilities are lacking this type of support, a pet owner who has suffered a loss, has the option of calling a variety of pet loss hotlines.  To list a few:  Tufts University Pet Loss Support Hotline, Monday through Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, 508-839-7966, or;  CONTACT of Burlington County, New Jersey, 24 hour access, 800-404-7387 for NJ residents and 800-234-4688 for all others; Iams Pet Loss Support Center and Hotline, weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, 888-332-7738; Chicago Veterinary Medical Association Pet Loss Support Hotline, 630-325-1600, all long distance phone calls will be returned collect.


In addition, many companies are offering different products to address the varying needs of the grieving pet owner community.  There are many options to choose from such as a memorial quilt made with pictures of their pet, scrapbooking, journaling, memory boxes, plantings, memorial service or a burial with a special statue or stone.  Memorial Markers can be found at and memorial candles can be found at If your pet was cremated, another popular trend is wearing jewelry that contains a portion of the pet’s cremains or having a stone made with the cremains.  One site that offers this service is  A pet owner may even want to make a donation to an animal shelter, university, or an organization that is conducting research on a specific disease or disorder,  in the pet’s memory. 


At this time, I would like to invite anyone who is in the area to participate in our next scheduled Pet Loss Support Group.  It will be held Monday, June 18, 2007 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice building at 99 Sparta Avenue, Newton, NJ 07860.  There is a $5.00 registration fee, and pre-registration is required.  This will be a time of sharing and support and one of the topics for discussion will be the use of journaling as a way to help with the grief, and as a way to honor and remember your pet.


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.



Wednesday, May 16, 2007




My vacuum wasn’t working right this past weekend and I couldn’t find where I put the manual.  Hey, there’s always Google.  Which is exactly where I found my vacuum’s website and their troubleshooting section.  As I was navigating the website, I could feel that I was getting closer to my particular issue with each passing click of the mouse.  Then I hit the FAQ’s section.  Most of us are familiar with this section of what seems all customer service areas.  FAQ’s are Frequently Asked Questions.  It seems most subjects have these FAQ’s.  If one has the patience, you can usually find your question and the matching answer.  If all else fails, you can still contact customer service. 


Grief isn't so different.  There seems to be some commonalities among grievers.  This isn’t a bad thing, because it lets the griever know that they are not alone, that they are not going crazy, that they are not weird.  One common theme among grievers is the question “why?”  “Why” for a lot of reasons.  Why did my loved one die?  Why didn’t the doctors diagnose this sooner?  Why didn’t I push to get them to thedoctor?  Why didn’t I see the signs?  Why didn’t I do things differently? And the biggest Why?  Why did God let this happen?  Why does God let children get sick and why does he let them die?  Why did God take my loved one?  Why couldn’t God take me instead?  Why would God take a parent away from a child?  Why would God take many people in one family?  And one death after another?  There are so many questions directed towards God, and I often hear, “When I get to heaven, I’m going to have a little chat with God and find out why he did all these things.” 


I couldn’t help imagining that God is up there sitting on a throne, and there is a line of people stretching longer than the eye can see, disappearing into the clouds.  They are all there to ask their “why.”  However, a lot of the questions are similar where it pertains to the loss of a loved one.  So being the busy guy that he is, he probably would have a list of FAQ’s.  I also imagine the FAQ’s are posted on the pearly gates, so that before you enter heaven you would check the list to see if your question has been answered already before heading off into the line.  Another counselor told me that she believes that our loved ones become spirit and that when you become spirit, the need to have your questions answered disappears.  Almost as if once you become spirit, you have an all-knowing and understanding of what your life was and all the “whys.”  Whatever it is, I do know that there are a lot of unanswered questions when we lose a loved one.  Some questions we will never have the answers for in our lifetime, and there is no customer service to bail us out.


Part of the grief process is coming to some sort of terms with this and being able to move forward.  It’s human nature to want to know the answers to our questions.  We crave understanding to be able to accept what has happened in our lives.  Loss, in particular, is something we don’t want to accept.  For me, to accept something means that I’m ok with it.  People are rarely “ok” with losing a loved one.  I prefer to say that part of the grief process is learning to live with the loss, or assimilating the loss into your life.  Whenever you “learn” about something, you change and grow.  Learning to assimilate the loss into your life is no different.  We never forget the loved ones who have died, but it does change you and you do grow as a person from the experience.  If your question isn’t on the FAQ list, you have to learn to assimilate the loss into your life without the answers and without customer service.


Please be gentle with yourself,




P.S.  If you have found this article, or previous articles, helpful, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit agency and we operate solely on donations from the community.  Any donation, no matter how great or how small, is greatly appreciated and will be acknowledged.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Should my child attend the viewing or the funeral?

When asked this question, my first response is, “What does the child want to do?”  If the child doesn’t want to attend, I suggest gently exploring the child’s reasons.  It may be they just don’t have adequate or correct information about what a viewing or funeral is to make the best decision for themselves.  Their decision may be based on falsehoods or ideas they received from movies, television, stories heard from friends or attitudes about the death that had been role modeled by the adults in their life.  Answering a few simple questions from you may help them in their decision to attend.


The next question I usually ask is, “How old are they?”  This helps in providing age-appropriate information.  This developmental guideline will help in knowing how they perceive death and dying, and as such, know how to explain these concepts in terms they can understand.  You can refer to my posting dated May 29, 2006 titled, “Children and Grief” to learn more about children’s developmental perspectives on death.


If the decision is made to let the child attend, then make sure you take the time to explain everything they may encounter in that situation so they will be prepared.  If it’s a viewing they will be attending, let them know what a funeral home is and what it will typically look like.  Let them know about viewing the body, what the body may look like, how it may feel, that the body will be laying in a coffin and what is a coffin.  Usually a discussion about what it means to be dead is had before you get this far, because depending on their age, you may need to re-explain that death means you can’t feel anymore.  Let them know about the different reactions they may see people having.  Let them know that there is no right or wrong way to feel.  Let them know that it is ok to cry, laugh or play.  Let them know that it is ok for you to cry and for them not to be worried.  Have a back-up plan in case they are unable to handle the event once they get there, or perhaps you become too grief stricken to attend to the child.  Usually it is suggested to have a relative or trusted friend, available to take the child to another room, or back home.  The same explanation process holds true for the funeral.  They will have questions and curiosity about coffins, being buried or being cremated.  If you need help with the correct terminology, or how to initiate these types of conversations, feel free to contact me.  I have many resources that can be helpful with these situations.


Always, the best rule of thumb is to provide honest, age-appropriate information.  Children have active imaginations and will fill in their own blanks about a situation if information isn’t provided to them from the adults in their life.  Often what they come up with is worse than the truth.  Children can be very capable of handling most information.  However, after advising parents on this question, I always defer to what the parents feel will be best for their children.  After all, they know their child better than anyone.  I’ll give you an example of a scenario that can be possible for your children, based off of recent personal experiences. 


My mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer in March of 2006.  She spent many days in the hospital, endured many days of chemo, lost her hair, lost a lot of weight, became weaker and fatigued with each passing month, until her death in February.  Her youngest daughter and son-in-law have a 5 ½ year old daughter and a 7 year old son.  When Grandma was first diagnosed and in the hospital, the children were told, by their parents, that Grandma is sick and the doctors are trying to make her better.  They were encouraged to make frequent visits to the hospital and their curiosity and questions about the hospital environment were answered very matter-of-factly.  The parents role modeled appropriate behaviors expected in the hospital and toward their Grandma. 

The parents continued to role model appropriate behaviors toward their Grandma when she came home, lost her hair, became thinner and weaker.  They still continued to visit just as much as they used to and made her many get-well cards.


These children also had a prior, recent experience with loss when their pet dog died.  Their parents explained that death is a part of life and that every living thing will one day die.  They also explained that most people and animals die of old age, like their dog.  Their dog was cremated and a basic explanation about what that meant was provided.  Because this was done, they readily accepted the receipt of their dog in a wooden box that now sits in a special place on their mantel.  On occasion, they take their dog on “walks” by carrying around her ashes.  Based on the family’s spiritual beliefs, the children know that their dog’s soul is in heaven, and they believe she is happy and running around. 


Based on these experiences, their grieving process, and the explanations that were provided to them, they were able to accept Grandma’s death more easily.  They knew that Grandma had a type of sickness that the doctors couldn’t fix.  They knew it wasn’t a sickness that everyone gets, and it’s a sickness that’s very different from being sick with a cold.  You don’t have to teach your children about all the ways a person can die, or the different ages that people can die.  Just use the teachable moments as they happen to enter your child’s life and take it from there.


These children did want to go to the funeral and their parents did explain to them what to expect.  They were encouraged to write a letter or make a card to put in the casket with Grandma.  This was done because although we all knew that Grandma had cancer, she was actively seeking treatment and her death was sudden and unexpected, which left a lot of things unsaid by the family.  After the first day of the viewing, Grandma’s casket was filled with letters, pictures, cards and the 5 ½ year old made paper flowers to put in the casket with her Grandma.  Grandma looked festive and well-loved.


Both children also observed the behaviors of the adults present that first day.  The 5 ½ year old approached the casket and said, “Hi Grandma” then knelt down at the railing, bowed her head, clasped her hands together and prayed.  She then got up and ran to the next room to play.  The 7 year old did the same as his sister, but he also observed that many of the adults were crying and carrying around tissues.  So when he got up from the casket, he reached for a tissue and started to dab at his eyes, while looking up at his dad to make sure he was doing the right thing.  Even though he truly wasn’t crying, his dad put an arm around him and said, “I know buddy, it’s ok to be sad.”  As the day progressed, the family members became less visibly upset and upon observing this, the 7 year old announced, “I’m glad people aren’t sad anymore.  It’s ok you know, we’re all going to die someday, even me.”  The grief counselor in me was most impressed, and I gave him a huge hug and told him how much I loved him.  He broke away from my hug and looked at me strangely, perhaps wondering why that response from him would elicit such a response from me.  To him, he stated an obvious truth.  He was quite comfortable with this fact of life.  He ended the evening by approaching the casket and saying, “See you tomorrow Grandma.  Have fun in heaven tonight.”


The next day showed they were no less prepared.  As we gathered to say our final good-byes to Grandma, before going to the church for the funeral service, many family members became visibly upset again as each one approached the casket.  Upon seeing her older cousin crying at the casket, the 5 ½ year old joined him, put an arm across his back and looked up into his face.  Saying nothing, she just patted his back.  He gratefully held her as he cried and they got up to leave together.  How does a 5 ½ year old know that just being there for someone in pain can be just as powerful and healing as words?  She modeled the behaviors that were role-modeled to her by the adults in her life.


Once we got to the church, the children asked their mother when they would see Grandma again.  When they realized they wouldn’t actually get to see her in the physical sense anymore, they beganto cry.  But their mother reminded them that Grandma was in heaven, just like their dog.  She also reminded them that Grandma was going to be cremated, just like their dog was.  And just like their dog, Grandma would have a special place on their mantel.  These explanations and beliefs seemed to help ease their sorrow.  We did wonder if Grandma would now join them whenever they decided to take their dog for a “walk” again.  But as the children work through their grief process, the need to “walk” their dog, and Grandma, will become less and less. 


If more children felt this comfortable about death and dying, we’d have a more supportive world in our adult years.  Should your child attend a viewing or a funeral?  Ultimately, it’s up to you, the parent, to know what your child can handle, but know the key is what kind of role model in grief are you able to provide to your child.



Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

What do we need during grief?

Hi all,  I apologize for not posting in a great while.  To be perfectly honest, my mother-in-law passed away on February 25th and I have not been able to get my  head back into the game.  I realize that I have been extremely delinquent in posting, so I wanted to offer this article that I was going to submit to some papers and magazines.  I hope many will find this helpful and I thank you for your understanding until I can get back into the swing of things.


What do we need during grief


As a grief counselor, I would say we need a lot of things, but one thing in particular – time.  Society has an idea of how long it should take a person to “get over” their loss.  One of the most common ideas is that one should be done grieving after a year.  Many companies offer a bereavement leave of 3 days, IF the loss was immediate family.  Fewer days are offered if the loss was extended family – and probably none if the loss was a friend or pet.  Anyone who has experienced a significant loss will probably feel that these are inaccurate timelines in grief. 


Grief, in general, can be experienced in a variety of ways.  If a person were experiencing sleep disturbances, appetite changes, poor grades, nightmares, dreams of the loved one, sighing, listlessness, low motivation, clinginess, social withdrawal, fighting, and regressive behaviors (bed-wetting and thumb sucking), grief may be affecting a person’s behaviors.  If someone were experiencing the inability to focus and concentrate, difficulty making decisions, self-destructive thoughts, preoccupation of the death, confusion and disbelief, then grief can be affecting their cognitions, or thoughts.  If a person were experiencing anger, guilt, regret, mood swings, depression, relief, feelings of helplessness, fear, loneliness and anxiety, then grief can be affecting a person’s feelings, or emotions.  If an individual were experiencing headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, a pounding of the heart, hot or cold flashes, increased illness, tightness in the chest, an empty feeling in the body, tightness in the throat and stomach aches, then grief can be affecting their physical being. 


The effects of grief do not end there however.  A person can experience symptoms affecting their behaviors, thoughts, feelings and body – all at the same time.  They can also experience more than one symptom from each of these areas, and again they could happen all at the same time.  It is easy to imagine that if an individual has not experienced a loss before, they may question their emotional stability.  Many people seek to medicate themselves in an effort to dull, or blunt, these symptoms.   Just as many people seek help from their physicians, who in turn often prescribe anti-depressants or anti-anxialitics to help their patients “get over the hump.”  Medication is just a band-aid for the symptoms.  It will cover up the pain for a little while, but it will not take the grief away.  Sooner or later the person will have to stop taking the medication and the grief will be there waiting for them.  Waiting to be dealt with; waiting to be acknowledged.   


Grief and depression are tricky companions.  Depression certainly comes with grief.  However, we caution people about using anti-depressants while in grief due tothe fact that once the medication is stopped, people will start to feel just as bad as when they first started taking the medication.  This surprises a lot of people who felt that they were starting to “get over” their grief, when in actuality they were just delaying the inevitable.  This is not to say that if someone is diagnosed as clinically depressed and are grieving that they should not take medication.  That’s why grief and depression are tricky companions.  One can be diagnosed as clinically depressed AND be in grief.  This is a case where one definitely needs to take their prescribed medication.  However, a person can be in grief and exhibit one of the symptoms of grief – depression.  This may be a case where the person needs to express their emotions and give themselves the gift of time in order to work through their grief. 


We always say that you can’t hide, deny or run from grief.  It will always be waiting to be dealt with.  One must work through the grief.  One will never “get over” their loss, but they will learn to accommodate the loss into their life.  People, who are grieving, may be struggling with trying to figure out who they are now without their loved one in their life.  They may be struggling with finding new goals, new meaning, and new directions.  This is all part of the grief process and must be given – time!


Please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.


Friday, February 9, 2007

Variables in Grief

My husband's grandfather passed away one week ago today.  He lived a beautiful, long life and died at the age of 97.  Some may say he lived a good long life, so his loss will not be felt as deeply.  Perhaps, but for me, his death represents one less truly good, loving and generous person walking on this earth. 

We talked earlier about the Variables in Grief and how these can determine how each person will grieve in their own unique way.  As I participated in the full day of activities,  I looked around and saw how the Variables were working.  As each event unfolded, emotional barriers were broken down and family members comforted one another.  At the viewing, it seemed the duties of paying respects, saying hellos and good-byes filled everyone with a sense of purpose and although some tears were shed, most held themselves in a composed manner.  During the church service, emotional barriers began to break down as we each heard the pastor's words, sang the hymns, and looked upon the casket.  At the veteran's cemetery, a special service was held and emotions were broken down even further by the touching ceremony given for our grandfather in honor of the service he gave to his country.  As we gathered at the church once again for a meal, the comfort we had given each other throughout the day had shored us up and gave a period of time to rest before we felt we had to grieve again. 

Everyone who had gathered that day, held special memories of Grandaddy, and grieved in their own unique way according to their relationship with him.  The fact that he died at 97 years of age was a variable for some family members' grief.  I heard one say that she felt it was a relief that he passed and was no longer suffering.  For many, this was their first significant loss.  Without having any life experiences regarding death before, they may be feeling the grief more acutely than some other family members.  These were just a few of the Variables that I observed that day. 

I often hear from people that their family members are not grieving the same way as they are.  Or they share that they feel the rest of the family does not understand them or what they are feeling.  Look to the Variables.  Everyone will grieve in their own unique way and the Variables may give you a clue as to why.

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

What does it mean to be a widow?

A friend of mine lost her husband and told me that she never speaks the "W" word.  I innocently asked, "What is the "w" word?"  Thinking it had to be something like the "F" word.  Well, it WAS a bad word, and to some the word may seem obscene.  The word is "Widow." 

My friend went on to explain that just because her husband had died, didn't mean that she stopped feeling married to him.  True, most vows include "Til death do us part," but the vows didn't say, "I'll stay married to you until you die and then we no longer have a relationship."  The vow merely says that death has parted you.  Most widows and widowers I know believe that when their time comes, they will join again with their spouse.  So it's just that death has parted you for a time. 

Some realists will read this and say come on now.  If we were take those vows literally then none of us would ever get remarried or become reinvested in life.  That's true too.  But that's why I ALWAYS say, "We each grieve in our own unique way."  Meaning if you want to grieve, move on and become reinvested in life, then by all means do so.  If you want to grieve, move on, become reinvested in life, but choose not to remarry again, then there is nothing wrong with that choice either.

I must admit that after the time I have spent in grief counseling I was surprised that I had never heard anyone express my friend's sentiment in quite that way before.  I always try to listen to people with an open mind, that is, after all, how we learn and grow.  Then I came across an article titled, "Spousal Bereavement" and the author wrote expressing the exact same sentiments that my friend had and I thought, "Well I'll be darned, she's on to something."  So I have included the article in this posting in the hopes that it may benefit someone. 

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.



               Lynn Caine, Widow


“Widow” is a harsh and hurtful word.  It comes from the Sanskrit and it means “empty.”  I have been empty too long.  I do not want to be pigeon-holed as a widow.  I am a woman whose husband has died, yes.  But not a second-class citizen, not a lonely goose.  I am a mother and a working woman and a friend and a sexual woman and a laughing woman and a concerned woman and a vital woman.  I am a person.  I resent what the term widow has come to mean.  I am alive.  I am part of the world.


If fate had reversed its whim and taken me instead of Martin, I would expect him to be very much a part of the world.  I cannot see him with the good gray tag of “widower.”  He would not stand for it for one moment.  And neither will I.  Not anymore. 


But what of love?  The warmth, the tenderness, the passion I had for Martin?  Am I rejecting that, too?


Ah, that is the very definition of bereavement.  The love object is lost.  And love without its object shrivels like a flower betrayed by an early frost.  How can we live without it?  Without love?  Without its total commitment?  This explains the passionate grief of widowhood.  Grief is as much a lament for the end of love as anything else.


Acceptance finally comes.  And with it comes peace.  Today I carry the scars of my bitter grief.  In a way I look upon them as battle stripes, marks of my fight to attain an identity of my own.  I owe the person I am today to Martin’s death.  If he had not died, I am sure I would have lived happily ever after as a twentieth-century child wife never knowing what I was missing . . .


But today I am someone else.  I am stronger, more independent.  I have more understanding, more sympathy.  A different perspective.  I have a quiet love for Martin.  I have passionate, poignant memories of him.  He will always be part of me.  But –


If I were to meet Martin today . . .?


Would I love him?


I ask myself.  Startled.  What brought the question to my mind?  I know.   I ask it because I am a different woman. 


Yes.  Of course I would.  I love him now.  But Martin is dead.  And I am a different woman.  And the next time I love, if ever I do, it will be a different man, a different love.




But so is life.  And wonderful.



Thursday, January 18, 2007

We Remember Them

Before the new year begins, the end of the old year is filled with remembrances.  A yearly tradition is to post a list of names of the famous, or influential, people who have died.  We often look over the list of names and remember how that person touched our lives, how they may have changed our culture or perspective, perhaps even our laws.  But we all know a great many people who may have affected us, and our lives, in this way, but they may be unknown to the masses.  We also know that just because "the masses" did not have the privilege of knowing this person, did not make this person any less special, or any less worthy of our remembrances.

I wanted to try a blog memorial for anyone who wanted to remember and memorialize a loved one.  If you would like to add a loved one's name and any comments about them and what made them so special, please feel free to access the comments section of this posting and I will update this posting daily to include all names and comments.  I will continue to do this until people stop adding names.  If you see a loved one's name already on the list, feel free to add it again.  Your comments and remembrances may be different than a previous listing, and will show how valued and loved this person was.  I also wanted to include a popular reading that I like to do during our memorial services. 

                                            WE REMEMBER THEM


                                         Sylvan Kamens and Jack Reimer

At the rising of the sun and at its going down, We Remember Them.

At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, We Remember Them.

At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of Spring, We Remember Them.

At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of Summer, We Remember Them.

At the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of Autumn, We Remember Them.

At the beginning of the year, and at its end, We Remember Them.

When we are weary and in need of strength, We Remember Them.

When we are lost and sick at heart, We Remember Them.

When we have joy we crave to share, We Remember Them.

When we have decisions that are difficult to make, We Remember Them.

When we have achievements that are based on theirs, We Remember Them.

As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, As We Remember Them.


Memorial Names

Judith Mae Kruse (Atwood), She was my mom and died unexpectedly when I was 20.  I miss her every day and I feel her presence just as much.  Her death was very influential in leading me on the path that I am on today.  The things I want people to remember about her most was that she was animal lover (particularly cats - for those who know me, that explains a lot, doesn't it?), she had a great smile, she was funny and she loved her family.

John H. (Jack) Barrett,  He was one of the five people I consider my role models. Mr. Barrett was my Scoutmaster and helped teach me discipline as well as respect for nature. I believe that my enjoyment of the outdoors comes directly from him.  He passed away just before Christmas in 2004.  "

Donald L. Kane (Don) was my beloved husband.  He passed away suddenly in November 2006 at the age of 56, a week after our daughter, Jacqueline, got married.  He was a wonderful, loving, caring, hardworking man who never hurt a soul in his life.  He was very quiet, and you might think he wasn’t paying attention, but he never missed anything and never forgot anyone he ever met or worked with over the years.  He was an animal lover, too…he brought home almost every stray that crossed his path over the years…4 dogs, a hamster, 6 baby rabbits.  We had 34 wonderful years together.  We really never fought…hon ..."

Eugene Kruse, He was my Godfather and Uncle.  He waskilled in a drunk driving accident when I was very young.  I don't have many memories of him, but the ones I do are of a very loving and generous man.  He was one of my first comforting memories as a child.  I still have many of the things he gave to me when I was born. 

Olivia White, was my friend and I met her while she was a client for our veterinary hospital.  I helped take care of her and her dog and became very good friends with her.  She never married and was an only child.  She took care of her sick aunt and parents and hospiced them in her home, when hospice wasn't an easy choice back then.  Her pets were her children and she loved her white poodle, Teddy. 

Charles E. (Gene) Keith, my loving spouse of 34 years who suddenly passed away on December 15, 2006.  I feel I have a hole in my being without him.  He was a kind, caring and wonderful man who loved his family and God with all his heart.  He was retired from Phillips Petroleum for about 8 years and worked as a contractor and built houses for the last several years.

Charles Randow, my grandfather-in-law.  To me, he was what every grandfather should be.  He always made me feel like I was his real granddaughter, not just by marriage.  He always asked about me, my activities and what I was doing.  He always remembered every detail of my schooling, work and my many pets.  Most importantly, he told me he was proud of me.  He was truly a loving and generous man with a tremendously huge heart. 

Kenneth James, 45. Gone from this earth way too soon. A brave person who quietly fought a battle with cancer. Among his selfless commitments to others, Ken was a volunteer Fireman with  Engine Co #1 Pompton Plains, NJ, for many years.
In the time after his diagnosis, Ken never wallowed in self-pity. Through it all, he was a rock for the rest of us who asked plenty of times, "why him?".  

Ruth Sebzda, my Mother. Another of my five role models (Jack Barrett from an earlier post was another). My Mom was always there for my Father, Sisters and me in so many important ways that it would be impossible to describe them all. Words cannot describe what she means to me. Lets just say I love her and I will  miss her terribly.  

My beloved grandson Aaron died on March 13th,  2007.  He was 24 years old & the light of my life.  I miss him so very much & keep asking "why", why him & not me.  He was a young man with his life ahead of him.  There are many things I ask myself, such as What If, If Only.  My wound is so deep & hurts beyond belief.  Knowing I will never see his smiling face & sparkling eyes, running thru the grass with his dog is more than I can deal with.  How do you get thru these days?  I know that life will never be the same again, how could it be.  When does that pain inside of you ease?   Please God, keep Aaron close to you.




Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solelyon donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.