11/30/17

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/.

11/27/17

how you and your pets can help each other




How can you and your pet(s) help each other through the mourning process?

It’s important to recognize that pets also feel grief and express it in their own ways.

To better understand how animals mourn, read our post, Is Your Pet Also Grieving?

There’s also an informative post on Psychology Today’s blog by Marc Bekoff that looks at scientific data about animals and grief.

Declaring “Grief in animals: It's arrogant to think we're the only animals who mourn”, the author goes on to say, “There is no doubt that many animals experience rich and deep emotions. It's not a matter of if emotions have evolved in animals but why they have evolved as they have. We must never forget that our emotions are the gifts of our ancestors, our animal kin. We have feelings and so do other animals.

Among the different emotions that animals display clearly and unambiguously is grief. Many animals display profound grief at the loss or absence of a close friend or loved one.” (Read More)

Our pets can also provide invaluable emotional support for us in our bereavement. For more about this, read our post Pets As Support, where we discuss the various studies that reveal the ways animals are able to show empathy and affection to bereaved owners.

We’d appreciate hearing about your own experiences with your pets.

11/23/17

widowhood way back when: how pilgrims progressed through loss





If you’re facing a Thanksgiving dinner that might be hindered by a bad case of heartburn or having to cope with troublesome relatives, consider what the original Pilgrims had to cope with. Especially the widowed survivors.

For a look back, we discovered the informative article, Pilgrim Burials on the site http://www.lovetoknow.com/.

According to this excerpt from authors J.C. Redmond and MaryBeth Adomaitis, “Pilgrim burials were relatively simple affairs. The occupants of the Mayflower were buried in unmarked graves because it is thought that they didn't want the Native Americans living in the area to know how small of a population they were.”

The authors go on to describe later Pilgrim burials, “When Pilgrims died, headstones were not erected at the burial site. No artisans skilled in carving stone had come over with the first group of settlers. In addition, there was no stone available in the area where the Pilgrims settled from which to fashion a monument to the dead. Their first priority was to concentrate on the tasks necessary for survival; even if the stone carvers had come on the trip, there wasn't any time to carve headstones.

A family wanting to erect a headstone in memory of a loved one would have to go to the expense of having one brought over from England.”

Redmond and Adomaitis describe burial rituals, “In the early years after the arrival of the Pilgrims in North America, funerals were a very simple matter. No funeral ceremony was conducted and no special sermon was given. The grieving family did not wear mourning clothes for a certain time after the death.

Embalming of the body of the deceased was not done. On occasion, graves were opened and reused. The bodies of a family or a small community may share the same grave.”

So enjoy the food and be grateful that as difficult as some relatives can be, at least you aren’t stuck with them for all eternity.

11/20/17

5 tips for staying healthy while you're mourning




Research has shown that you’re more vulnerable to physical problems following the death of a spouse/partner. This doesn’t mean that you will get sick, only that it’s important to take care of your health during this stressful period.

The 5 best ways to safeguard yourself include:

1) Informing your doctor(s) that your spouse/partner has died. Pre-existing medical conditions can be affected by the stress of coping with loss and you may need an adjustment in medication dosages or other treatment changes.

2) Making sure you’re getting adequate nutrition. Appetite loss is a common symptom of grief and can create health problems over time. Rather than forcing yourself to polish off three full meals a day, try to eating several small snacks throughout the day, including fruits, vegetables and lean meats or other sources of protein.

3) Considering vitamin and/or meal supplements. Ask your doctor about taking vitamins and/or one of the liquid meal supplements like Ensure.

4) Taking short naps to compensate for the lack of sleep at night. Sleep disturbance is a very common symptom of grief. A word of caution: Some doctors will want to prescribe sleep medications. Although this type of medication can be helpful in the days following the death, continued use can interfere with the normal mourning process.

5) Keeping moving. If at all possible, try to get at least 20 to 30 minutes a day of light exercise, like taking a walk. Mild exercise has been proven to help overall health and well-being.

Remember: grief puts you under a lot of stress both emotionally and physically. So try to take the best possible care of yourself during this vulnerable time in your life.

11/16/17

staying connected with adult step-children; part 2


In our last post, we looked at some of the causes of tension between you and your adult step-children.

Here are some strategies for defusing that tension and improving communication.

1) Give everyone a psychological “time-out” from making any decisions. Postpone any discussions about who gets what for a few months and tell the family, “I’m just not ready to focus on such important questions yet.”

2) Look to other family members and friends for your emotional support. Your spouse/partner’s children may or may be there to lean on right away.

3) Don’t put your stepchildren in the middle of any unfinished business you have with your late spouse/partner or his or her ex. Vent your anger at the appropriate target, even if it means talking to a photo of your spouse/partner.

4) After a few months (trust your instincts about the timing), suggest a get-together. Assure your stepchildren that they remain important to you and you’d like to work out ways to maintain your connection.

5) Remember that when it comes it financial issues, conflicts can easily arise. Protect yourself by consulting with your own experts.

Keep in mind that if your prior relationship with a step-child was close, he or she will be anxious not to lose it. A strong foundation can help any relationship weather some temporary storms.

11/13/17

staying connected with adult step-children; part 1: understanding the issues


You’ve just lost your spouse/partner.

Now you may face more losses.

If your spouse/partner had adult children, how can you be certain those relationships won’t either slip away or be destroyed by conflict?

To better understand what is happening, keep in mind the following:

-Your step-children are grieving too. Their reactions will reflect their own relationships with their deceased parent. If there was conflict, there may be hidden guilt or remorse behind how they act.

-Your connection with your step-children depends on how you have been in their lives and what kind of relationship you shared. If there was any initial tension around the circumstances of your marriage, this can surface.

-Is your spouse’s ex alive? Your step-children may distance themselves from you. Keep in mind that what appears to be a shift in loyalties may just be a temporary reaction to the loss.

-Consider your connection prior to the death. Were you close to your step-children? What stresses did the circumstances prior to the death (prolonged illness, a sudden accident), put on the relationship?


Hopefully these questions can shed some light on what lies beneath any tensions or confusion you may have experienced with your stepchildren.

In our next post, we’ll offer some strategies for strengthening these important relationships during this difficult time.

11/9/17

bereavement counseling for surviving families of veterans

With Veteran's Day being observed this week, you might want to check out the opportunities for bereavement counseling if your loved one was a veteran.

The Veterans Affairs website was updated last year and is loaded with information about survivor benefits of all kinds. 

According to the website: The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) offers bereavement counseling to parents, spouses and children of Armed Forces personnel who died in the service of their country. Also eligible are family members of reservists and National Guardsmen who die while on duty. VA's bereavement counseling is provided at community-based Vet Centers located near the families. There is no cost for VA bereavement counseling. S

Services are obtained by contacting Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS) at 202-273-9116 or via electronic mail at vet.center@hq.med.va.gov both of which are specific to this specialized service.

RCS staff will assist families in contacting the nearest Vet Center. For further information, please visit http://www.vba.va.gov/EFIF/dependents.htm#deceased and/or http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/Bereavement_Counseling.asp

Even if you yourself aren't a surviving family member, you may discover some important resources that can help a friend or relative who has lost a serviceman/woman.

Our thanks and best wishes go out to all veterans and their families!

11/6/17

best ways to get through the holidays; part 2


In our last post, we suggested the best ways to cope with the upcoming holiday season.

Here are more proven strategies:

1) Contact the host or hostess before the get-together and let them 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.

11/2/17

best ways to get through the holidays; part 1


Dreading the upcoming holidays?

If you’ve recently lost your spouse, the coming festivities can feel as unwelcome as Marley’s Ghost.

Here are some tried and true strategies for facing the holiday season:

1) Think ahead and try to anticipate how you’ll feel on each holiday.

2) Even if you don’t join in the festivities, don’t remain alone all day. Spend some time with a friend.

3) Considering your loss, don’t expect yourself to be as upbeat as usual. Expect some sadness as you take part in the festivities.

4) To lessen the chance of emotional sneak attacks, make some time to grieve, either on the holiday or just before it.

5) If you do choose to join in holiday activities, make some changes as to how much you do or become involved in.

Look for more tips in our next post.