last minute holiday support: part 2

In our last post, we reprised suggestions (from Part 1 of Best Ways to Get Through the Holidays),for the best ways to cope with the upcoming holiday season.

Here are more proven strategies from Part 2 of Best Ways to Get Through the Holidays:

1) Contact the host or hostess before the get-together and let him/her know that you aren’t feeling like your usual self and may need to leave early.

2) Give yourself the first 30 minutes after you arrive to adjust to a gathering where your spouse is no longer with you.

3) Take your own car or alert a friend who is driving that you may want to leave early.

4) If you start to feel overwhelmed, you can retreat to the bathroom or take a short walk for some private time.

5) If you choose to avoid the usual gatherings, consider volunteering to serve meals at shelters, visiting shut-ins, or spending the day at a movie or health spa.

Remember: You will get through this time. We’ve found that the anticipation is usually much worse than the actual events. Be sure to plan ahead and do only what is most comfortable for you.


year-round volunteer opportunities

In our post on volunteering for the holidays, we suggested some short term ways to help others, especially if the usual holiday celebrations are too difficult to face since the death of your spouse/partner.

If however, you want to volunteer on a more ongoing basis, we suggest checking into the following opportunities in your community:

1) Schools that need tutors or other types of volunteers
2) Libraries
3) Food banks for cancer/Aids patients
4) Hospitals or hospices
5) Medical organization sponsored thrift shops
6) Meals On Wheels
7) Senior Corps Programs (http://www.seniorcorps.org/), such as Foster Grandparent, Senior Companion, and R.S.V.P.
8) Museums that will train docents
9) Family Service agencies that will train volunteers for a variety of tasks
10) Houses of worship
11) Veterans organizations and troop support services

A great online resource for finding local volunteer opportunities is Volunteer Match (http://www.volunteermatch.org/). This site offers a wide range of places and causes you can assist as well as help you can provide online, if you aren’t up to getting out.

Keep in mind that an added benefit of becoming involved in volunteer work is the opportunity to create new friendships.

Discovered other opportunities to help?

Let us know.


seen any good movies lately?

We found some listings of movies that deal with the death of a spouse/partner on thegriefblog.com and Amazon.com (recommended by a psychotherapist).

Here are some suggested films you might want to check out:

- Shadowlands
- Corrina, Corrina
- Act Two
- Message in a Bottle
- The Notebook
- Always
- Grace Is Gone

Have some favorites of your own?

Please let us know.


need a lawyer?

With all the financial and legal issues that can arise when you lose a spouse/partner, you may find yourself in need of an attorney who is a specialist in a particular area of the law

If you already use the services of a lawyer, he or she may be able to refer you to a colleague. Or you can ask trusted family or friends for referrals.

Here are some other options:

The American Bar Association
The ABA can refer you to an attorney in your area who specializes in dealing with your specific concerns. To search the ABA website, click on “Lawyer Locator” or “Find Legal Help”.

The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (http://www.actec.org/).
From the organization’s online home page, click “Find an ACTEC Fellow” for referral to a probate attorney who is a member in your area. There is a very informative online FAQ page that explains wills, the probate process, estate planning, etc.


online support for grieving kids and teens

Here are some great online sources of emotional support for grieving children and teens. Be sure to check these out before suggesting them to your child.

The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families (http://dougy.org/)
(phone toll free: 1-866-775-5683 )

Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, this excellent organization offers special online activity and advice pages for all ages. The knowledgeable staff can also help you find local support groups for everyone in the family.

Learn more.

KIDSAID (www.kidsaid.com)

An offspring of one of our favorite sites, GriefNet.org, this site offers kids-to-kids e-mail support groups where they can share stories and artwork with each other. Once you give your permission, these groups (one for under age 12 and one for ages 13-18) are available to your child and monitored by a clinical psychologist. There are also Q&A pages for kids and adults.

Learn more.


we're taking a little time off

We're taking a short break (wish it was on the tropical island in that photo).

Look for our next post next week, on Wednesday, September 9.

Until then, please check out our past posts for tips and support.

Take care.

Laurie and Ruth


we're on opentohope.com this sunday

Since discovering an excellent bereavement website and blog by another mother/daughter team of psychotherapist/authors (who knew?), we’ve become contributing writers to their site.

This coming Sunday, August 16, “Too Much, Too Little; How to Balance Your Need for Support” will be the Feature Article of the Day on http://www.opentohope.com/.

The Open to Hope Foundation and it’s network site, The Grief Blog.com, cover a variety of types of range of losses, from the death of a family member to the loss of a pet. Drs. Gloria and Heidi Horsley also host a popular syndicated radio talk show, Healing the Grieving Heart.

We’re excited to be a part of these sites and hope you’ll take a look at what they have to offer.

If you have any ideas for what topics you’d like us to cover on our own blog, please let us know.


how working affects young widowed survivor benefits

We came across SocialSecurityHop.com, a useful site that addresses some common questions about survivor benefits.

A question from a young woman who had been widowed and had to support young children was of particular interest:

My husband passed last year and I am collecting Social Security benefits for myself and my small children. Can I go to work part-time without losing these benefits? I am no where near retirement age but I am the caretaker of the my children. If I can, HOW MUCH am I allowed to make????????

According to SocialSecurityHop, you can get Social Security retirement or survivors benefits and work at the same time. But, if you are younger than full retirement age and earn more than certain amounts, your benefits will be reduced. The specifics vary from case to case, but in one instance, if you are younger than full retirement age during all of 2009, Social Security will deduct $1 from your benefits for each $2 you earned above $14,160.


other memorial options

The comment by contributor Deb Edwards about our recent post on visiting your spouse/partner’s gravesite got us thinking.

Deb wrote, “My husband was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea, so "visiting" him is not an option, but not something I would be inclined to do. I have made my own rituals and memorials which included planting a tree and installing a plaque in his memory. It is in the town where we lived and I do go there from time to time. I also have done some things in the house, including a collage of his life. The memories of my husband are in my heart and my mind-I don't need to go anywhere to 'see' him or talk to him-he is with me all the time.”

In addition to a traditional gravesite or virtual memorial (see our last post), or what Deb chose, here are some ways to memorialize your late spouse/partner:

-Make a donation to a special charity in your partner’s name.

-Establish a scholarship or grant in your partner’s name.

-Scatter your partner’s ashes in a location(s) that holds special meaning for you.

-Create a Memory Book, which is especially helpful for children.

-Create a “memorial event”, such as a community contest or race that reflects your partner’s interests. Enlisting the support of local businesses is a great way to finance and/or promote these events.

Any other memorial ideas you’ve come up with? Please share them with us.


an overview of some online memorial websites

We noticed that GriefNet.org has a page on its site about creating a free online memorial website. Having heard about these “virtual” tributes to deceased loved ones, we thought we’d explore a little further.

We looked into some of these online services: Virtual Memorials (the one GriefNet offers) and Remembered Forever.

All of these sites help you create a webpage with its own online address that memorializes your late spouse/partner. In addition to written tributes and photos, you can have visitors to the site leave their own remembrances and/or condolences in an online guestbook. Music, speech, and video clips can also be uploaded (for specific options, visit the homepages of these sites.)

You also have the option of either sharing your memorial website with everyone or keeping visitors limited to only those to whom you’ve given a confidential password.

Although all of these memorial sites is initially free, they all have a “trial” period of anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks before you’re asked to pay a one-time fee (ranging from $59 - $98) to maintain the website. While Virtual Memorials and Remembered Forever promise to donate a portion of this fee to charities, only Virtual Memorials will keep the text (only), if you chose not to pay the fee.

These sites will also feature your loved one’s photo and date of death every year on the anniversary of the occasion. Most also offer a hard copy “memory book” as another option.

This sort of memorial may not appeal to everyone, but in this technological age, it’s an option worth exploring.

Let us know if you or someone you know has used one of these online services.


best online support if you're widowed

Although there are several forms of online support for those who have been widowed (chat rooms, bulletin boards, etc.), our favorite is GriefNet.org. This non-profit site offers almost 50 specialized email support groups as well as two web sites.

According to the GriefNet site:

"Our groups operate 24-hours/day, 365 days/year. Members participate when they wish and are able to, not at a set time. When one member of a group sends an email message to the group, everyone in the group receives a copy. This allows many people to respond with love and caring to the thoughts and feelings of an individual, day and night, year-round. Since 1994 these groups have helped thousands of people around the world deal safely with their grief."

We also like the fact that there is a mental health professional in charge:

"All groups are monitored by trained volunteers who make sure that the groups are running smoothly. Overall supervision is provided by Cendra Lynn, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and traumatologist."

A sampling of GriefNet’s email groups includes:

Grief-Widowed is a support group for anyone who has lost a partner or a spouse at any age, at any time, of any sexual orientation. If/when subscribers find a need for a more focused list, that can be created.

Widowed-with-Kids is a group for those who have lost a partner or spouse who still have children living at home. This is a place where the unique problems of parenting when widowed can be discussed.

Grief-Widowed Moving On is a support group for anyone who has lost a partner or a spouse at any age, at any time, of any sexual orientation, and who has moved on beyond the first raw stages of dealing with that loss. This list was formed at the request of people in grief-widowed group whose issues have become different from those who are newly bereaved. Some persons subscribe to both lists.

Grief-Men is a support group for bereaved men who especially want to talk to other men about their loss.

Young Widowed is a support group for those aged 40 or under who have lost a spouse or partner. Please note: the age cut-off is only suggested; those who feel themselves to fit into this category are welcome.

Widowed Gay is for gays who have lost a partner to death or whose partner is currently dying. Gays are also welcome in our other widowed groups and while we have never had a homophobic incident, this group was created in response to a special request from some gay widowed members.

There are also support groups for children and teens:

Kids-to-kids, a support group for children ages 12 and under.

K2K-Teens, support for ages 13 through 18.

Learn more about these and other groups offered by GriefNet.


making it through mother's day

Holidays like Mother’s Day can be difficult, especially during the first year after your loss. Even if it's been some time since the death, holiday ads bombard all of us with images of a mother's love and care.

In addition to these often bittersweet reminders, Mother’s Day itself can stir up the pain of loss for you, your children and/or grandchildren.

If you’ve lost your spouse/partner, it may also remind you of your own deceased parent(s).

Children in particular can feel left out and troubled while others around them celebrate the occasion.

Here are some tips for helping your family cope:

a) Acknowledge your own feelings of loss by talking about how you miss your spouse/partner or parent. When children see you sad or tearful it lets them know their own feelings are normal.

b) Have younger children create “remembering” cards, with photos or drawings of special memories about their parent or grandparent.

c)You may find it comforting to visit the cemetery or other place of remembrance.

d) If there is a family gathering, make some time to share affectionate or funny memories of your loved one.

The feelings Mother’s Day stirs up won’t just go away. It’s best to acknowledge the occasions, even briefly, especially with children.

By denying or avoiding sad feelings, you run the risk of them "sneaking up" on you or other family members unexpectedly.


more ways to cope with appetite loss

In a previous post we talked about coping with the loss of appetite after your spouse/partner’s death.

We recently came across momminusdad.com, a site for adult children who have lost a parent. In this useful post, author Jamieson Haverkampf recommends the following:

Prepared food can be a thoughtful and useful gift for a griever from friends or family, especially during the first few months after the loss of a spouse or loved one. Here are a few options to choose from: Big City Chefs: personal chefs in major cities for hire; Diamond Organics: fresh organic foods from California with overnight delivery; Dinewise: gourmet frozen meals with special meals for seniors and diabetics; Gourmet Grocery online: gift baskets and prepared meals and soups or Harry and David for gourmet gift baskets; and Home Bistro: meals for special diets. Your friends and family will appreciate having healthy foods around when they have low energy to get foods themselves after the loss of a loved one.

While this is a great way for others to “do something”, it can also be a good way to take care of yourself. Especially at those times when you don’t feel up to shopping and/or fixing something to eat. Or depending on family or neighbors to do it for you.

There are also some regional supermarket chains that offer online selections and home delivery. Check out Netgrocer.com, which has an extensive directory of online food, grocery, and pharmacy products. Another option is GroceriesExpress.com, which provides it's own grocery items for delivery.

Although it can get costly, occasionally ordering meals or groceries online can provide a healthy alternative on days when you’d just rather not bother. Yourself or others.


when should i stop wearing my wedding ring?

After your spouse/partner dies, you may have mixed feelings about when to remove your wedding ring.

Because there are no firm rules about if and when to take this emotionally loaded step, it’s really up to you to decide when to stop wearing your ring.

You might practice removing it for short periods and see how you feel. Or try a more gradual change by shifting the ring to another finger, different hand, or a chain you wear around your neck.

However you proceed, take the time you need to make the decision that's right for you.


some survivor benefits you may not know about

If your spouse/partner has died or you’re a widowed mom or dad, you’re probably already familiar with your basic Social Security benefits.

But did you know that if your divorced spouse has died, you can receive benefits as a widow/widower? The marriage has to have lasted 10 years or longer and you must be age 60 or older (or age 50 if you are disabled).

Under certain circumstances, the following survivors may also qualify for benefits:

* Step-children, grandchildren, or adopted children.

* Dependent parents age 62 or older.

Check out http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ for more information. The site lists the paperwork you’ll need and how to apply.

If you were in a same-sex marriage or domestic partnership, your state may also offer survivor benefits. Go to http://www.findlaw.com/, to get further information about your particular state’s provisions. This is generally a great site for answers about a wide variety of legal issues.

Never assume you have no rights or benefits. Always check it out!


been there but never done this

You never think it will happen to you.

When I was forty-five, my husband died of cancer.

Suddenly I was a young widow and a single mom. All the parenting and financial responsibilities were now on my shoulders.

At times the pain of my loss and my anxiety about the future felt overwhelming. But eventually, one small step at a time, I made it through. It wasn't easy. I thought the terrible pain would never go away. But with time, it did soften.

Since then, I've become a psychotherapist specializing in helping the widowed. I eventually turned my personal and professional experiences into a book that I co-authored with my daughter, Laurie. Although we have a Lost My Partner website, a blog promises a more immediate connection to others who have been widowed.

Because there's nothing quite like support from someone who's "been there", I'll share the strategies that have proven most helpful to me (along with what Laurie's learned from counseling the bereaved), and hope you'll share your own tips, thoughts and experiences.

So here goes: our first step out into the blogosphere.

We hope you'll join us.