12/21/15

reflections: by darcie sims



With the holidays here, we thought we’d post this inspiring article by Darcie Sims from The Grief Blog.com. Although it’s about a military family, the issue is one that we all deal with at holiday times.

The Empty Chair
There’s an empty chair in our house and I am not sure what to do with it. It’s been empty a long time and although we’ve moved more than a few times since it became empty, we still haul it around with us. It’s not a particularly classic chair or even a very pretty one, and it is empty…all the time.

I never really know which room to put it in whenever we do move, but once it has found its place, I’ve noticed that it simply stays there. No one moves it, no one suggests putting it away.


No one sits in it. It’s just an empty chair.

As a military family, for many generations, we are used to having members of the family off in faraway places for long periods of time. My father would be gone for up to a year or even two. His chair was often empty at the table. My husband’s military career took him away for many months at a time, and his chair was often empty. And then, when our daughter was commissioned in the military, we knew her chair would also be empty sometimes. So empty chairs at our house are not an uncommon thing, but this chair…this chair should never have been empty.

As the holidays approach, I am always faced with the task of deciding what to do with our empty chair. Should we put it away for the season? Should we decorate it? Or should we just ignore it?

One holiday season, we did decide to put it away. Even though it was an empty chair, it left an even bigger empty space when we did move. How can that be? How can something that is empty leave a bigger empty space when it’s gone?!

We’ve tried to ignore it, but its emptiness is very loud and it is hard to miss an empty chair in a room filled with people sitting in all the other chairs. And even when we could manage to ignore it, others could not and they always commented on it. An empty chair is not invisible.

Then, one year, we decided to simply include it in our holiday decorating scheme; that was the cause of some interesting discussions. Should we put a special holiday pillow in it? What about tossing a colorful quilt or afghan over the back? Should we put something in the chair? But nothing we tried could fill the emptiness of that chair. It just sat silent like a sentinel, waiting for something…or someone.

It took us many years of living with that empty chair, day in and day out, to finally figure out what to do with it. Our empty chair is pulled up to the table and a single rose is placed on the plate, a symbol of everlasting love. The empty chair represents all of those who are not with us for this occasion, but who live within our hearts forever. It is not a sad sight because we know that empty chair represents a love we have known and shared and with that gift, our family is forever blessed.

We join hands in thanksgiving, completing the circle with the empty chair within our family circle, for even though death may have come, love never goes away.

So, if your holiday table will have an empty chair this year, remember that it is not truly an empty space. That place is still occupied by the love and joy of the one(s) who sat in it. Don’t hide that chair away. You may not wish to bring it to the table as we do, but take time this holiday season to remember the laughter, the joy, the love, the light of those who are no longer within hug’s reach, but whose love still fills us with gratitude.

Join hands around your table, however small, and say a prayer of thanksgiving…for the love you have known and still hold deep within your heart. You are rich beyond measure for having had a chair filled. Don’t let death rob you of the heart space that love keeps.

Our little empty chair…no one has sat in it for 25 years…until this season. The empty chair at our house has been filled with the tiny spirit of a new life as she found that chair to be just the “right size.”

We are a family circle, some chairs filled and others not, broken by death, but mended by love.


Darcie D. Sims, Ph.D., CGC, CHT


Reach Darcie Sims at http://www.griefinc.com/.

11/23/15

reflections from lost my partner: even more words of wisdom

Here are more sayings from our book, Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do?

1) For now, it’s okay to ask for help from others. Nobody’s strong all the time. Even Superman can be weakened by Krytonite.

2) Confusion and memory loss are normal and temporary symptoms.

3) The first year is full of first everythings.

4) Any new situation will start out being uncomfortable the first time. The next time is always easier.

5) Bereavement is a learning experience about you. You’ll discover new capabilities and strengths you didn’t realize you had.

9/3/15

your grieving child and a new caregiver/housekeeper


(Excerpted from our book, Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do? Revised and Expanded Edition)

Introducing an unfamiliar person into the household following your spouse/partner’s death can present special concerns in terms of your child’s sense of emotional security. It’s important that the caretaker/housekeeper be made aware of the following:

· The importance of being sensitive to your child’s grieving. Explain that your child’s behavior may sometimes reflect an inability to talk about the loss. Stress that it’s up to your child to decide if he/she wants to talk about what’s happened, and the caretaker should not pressure him/her.

· How to handle issues of loss. Clarify that you wish your own beliefs about death and loss, rather than the caretaker’s, to be the response to your child’s questions or concerns. If the caretaker is of a different religion and/or culture and therefore views death differently, it might be wise to discuss your family’s religious orientation with him/her.

· Your child’s needs and concerns regarding household routines. Allowing your child to participate in a discussion on this subject will help him/her feel understood by the new person caring for them.

8/31/15

widowhood way back when: widows on rooftops




An interesting architectural feature began in the days of sailing ships.

According to Wikipedia, a widow's walk (or roofwalk) is a railed rooftop platform often with a small enclosed cupola that was often found on 19th century North American houses.

A popular romantic myth holds that the platform was used to observe vessels at sea. The name comes from the wives of mariners who would watch for their spouses' return, often in vain as the ocean took the lives of the mariners, leaving the women as widows.

However, there is little or no evidence that widow's walks were intended or regularly used for this purpose.

Widow's walks are in fact a standard decorative feature of Italianate architecture, which was very popular during the height of the Age of Sail in many North American coastal communities. The widow's walk is a variation of the Italinate cupola . The Italianate cupola, also known as a "belvedere", was an important ornate finish to this style, although it was often high maintenance and prone to leaks.

Beyond their use as viewing platforms, they are frequently built around the chimney of the residence, thus creating an easy access route to the structure. This allows the residents of the home to pour sand down burning chimneys in the event of a chimney fire in the hope of preventing the house from burning down.

We wonder if those 19th century wives had deck chairs and sun block while they were up there.

8/20/15

ruth joins huffpost live panel on overcoming sudden loss


 On 5-5-15, Ruth was interviewed on HuffPost Live as part of a program "How to Overcome Sudden Loss".


Although prompted by the recent death of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's husband, Dave Goldberg, who died suddenly following an exercise accident, the subject of sudden loss itself was the focus.   

As a professional psychotherapist who was herself widowed in her mid-40's, Ruth joined the discussion on the challenges of surviving being widowed and coping with the sudden death of a loved one.

Go to HuffPost Live to watch this informative program.

And please share your thoughts and reactions with us!

7/30/15

widowhood way back when; victoria's other secret



Feeling comforted by keeping some of your late spouse/partner’s possessions for a time is a common reaction for many widowed people.

There are, however, limits.

Just consider Queen Victoria, that symbol of perpetual widowhood.

When her husband died suddenly in 1861, Queen Victoria officially decreed that “mourning for the Prince consort shall be ordered for the longest term in modern times.”

According to biographer Greg King in his book, Twilight of Splendor, “Windsor (Castle) was immediately draped in black crepe; so much was used that the entire country’s supply was depleted within a day.”

King goes on to say, “Victoria created a cult devoted to the memory of her husband. The Blue Room at Windsor was to be kept ‘in its present state,’ she ordered, ‘and not be made use of in the future,’ although she herself added memorial wreaths and a bust of Print Albert.”

“For forty years to the end of her reign,” King continues, “Albert’s rooms were the scene of an incredible ritual. Each morning, a servant delivered a fresh jug of hot water to the unused washstand, as if Albert’s ghost might appear and need a shave, and laid out a change of clothes amid the fresh flowers that covered the bed; even his unused chamber pot was scoured and replaced at night.”

Too bad the mental health profession wasn’t yet up to speed in 1861. Victoria could have benefited from a little supportive feedback.

Luckily, if you find yourself scouring your late spouse/partner’s chamber pot every day, professional help is now an option.

In any case, it's okay to give yourself a little time.

Hopefully, it won't be forty years.

5/21/15

resources for military survivors




Some years years ago, I was privileged to spend Memorial Day Weekend attend an annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for kids. TAPS stands for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a fantastic support and resource organization founded in 1994 by Bonnie Carroll, who was herself in the military.

I was tremendously impressed by the humility and courage of the widowed spouses/partners and families of our troops and the struggles they encountered dealing with their losses. Visit the TAPS website, taps.org, which offers 24/7 support and information for military survivors and their families. There's both peer and professional support for adults, teens and children.

Also be sure to check out GriefNet.org, which offers specialized online support for military spouse/partners and their families. The site also offers a wide range of other specialized online support groups.

Ruth and I send caring thoughts and our best wishes to all military families, whether they've lost a loved one, have a family member in active duty, or have a veteran in the family.




4/30/15

widowhood way back when; victorian veil threats


Before the 20th century, widows were expected to follow strict dress codes and rituals. In addition to a total wardrobe makeover (all in flat black), respectable widows couldn’t go out in public without wearing a long black “widow’s veil” that, when pulled down over the face, also covered much of the body.

Being a slave to fashion however, had it's drawbacks.

According to an excerpt from an 1886 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, "This fashion is very much objected to by doctors, who think many diseases of the eye come by this means, and advise for common use thin nuns' veiling instead of crape (AKA “crepe” fabric), which sheds its pernicious dye into the sensitive nostrils, producing catarrhal disease as well as blindness and cataract of the eye."

The article goes on to say, "It is a thousand pities that fashion dictates the crape veil, but so it is. It is the very banner of woe, and no one has the courage to go without it. We can only suggest to mourners wearing it that they should pin a small veil of black tulle over the eyes and nose, and throw back the heavy crape as often as possible, for health's sake."

You say crepe. They said crape. I say... let's take the whole thing off!

3/5/15

should my child attend the funeral? part 2

(Excerpted from our book, Lost My Partner - What'll I Do? Revised and Expanded Edition)





Before the Service

Customs vary in terms of how funerals are conducted and how mourners show their grief. Unless a younger child has already attended a family funeral, he/she may become frightened by all the strange procedures and emotional loss of control unfolding before them.

Prior to the service, explain to the child what happens at funerals or memorials. You might say:

“Mommy’s/Daddy’s body will be in a large box called a casket. He/she won’t be able to see or hear anything.”

If the casket is to be open, explain that family or friends may touch or perhaps kiss the deceased. If closed, explain that there will no longer be any opportunity to see the parent.

Mention too, that there will probably be someone who talks about the parent, and that some of the people who go to the funeral might be sad and crying because they will miss that person too.

Preparing your child in this way allows time for him/her to express any feelings or concerns that should be respected in the situation.

During the Service

Ask a friend of family member (who won’t mind missing some of the service) to sit near you and keep an eye on your child in case he/she becomes uncomfortable and needs to “take a walk and talk about things”. This way, you can focus on getting through the day without having to worry that your child’s needs aren’t being addressed.

With adequate emotional support, the opportunity to observe a funeral and see others confronting loss can make it easier for a child to accept the death of a parent.

Be sure to talk with your child after the service about what he/she experienced.
He/she may find it helpful to draw pictures.

3/2/15

should my child attend the funeral? part 1





(Excerpted from our book, Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do? Revised and Expanded Edition)

Part 1

Although most of you will be reading this some time after the funeral has occurred, some of you may be facing that experience and wondering whether or not to have your child attend.

While funerals can be helpful for children, whether they attend or not depends upon:

1) The child’s wish to participate.

2) His or her age.

3) The child’s level of understanding.

It’s appropriate to let your child take part in any mourning ritual, as long as they’ve been given a choice and know what to expect.

If your child chooses not to attend the funeral, sit down with him/her once the event is over and in a clear, sensitive way, describe what went on. Together, you might draw pictures and create a memorial ritual that enables your child to say goodbye to the parent.

An option to consider is holding a separate service for your child and his/ her friends that your child can help plan and participate in.

In Part 2, we’ll talk about ways to prepare and support your child if you decide to have him or her attend the funeral.

1/1/15

reflections: quotes on facing the challenges of a new year



1) Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are.
- Bernice Johnson Reagon

2) You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

- Eleanor Roosevelt

3) Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


4) Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths.
- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe


5) It’s not whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get up again.
- Vince Lombardi