3/29/18

spiritual comfort; part 2: coming to terms with the questions


In Part 1 of Spiritual Comfort, we explored some of the questions about your faith that can arise following the death of your partner.

Our excerpt from Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do? continues.

Each faith has its own way of understanding the experience of death.

Some people turn to their religious advisor and find answers that are comforting.

Others may be given answers that fail to satisfy them when they’re feeling such terrible pain. This can feel like an even more profound loss.

Before you decide to give up on your faith:

- Give yourself time. Some have to struggle for awhile before discovering answers that feel right for them.

- Get a different perspective. Some clergy are simply more skillful at handling these issues than others. Rather than giving up on your faith, you might want to consider consulting another clerical member of your denomination. Sometimes a different perspective (and personality) can make all the difference.

Other good sources of comfort are books that deal with the “whys” of death, such as When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner (Schocken Books, Inc., 2001).

3/26/18

spiritual comfort; part 1: questions

Parts 1 and 2 of Spiritual Comfort are excerpted from our book, Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do? Revised and Expanded Edition (copyright 2008 from McCormick Press).

For some, bereavement is a time when religion provides great comfort and support.

For others, it can be a painful time in which you question your most cherished beliefs.

The impact of losing a spouse can cause some people to experience a crisis of faith. In the face of death, each of us struggles in his/her own way to find answers to profoundly difficult questions

You may question the fairness of the loss:

“We played by the rules. My partner was such a good, loving person – why did this have to happen to us?”

You may feel that death cheated you of many things: your spouse as your life partner, the dreams and plans you had for the future, the sharing of family experiences, etc.

It’s not uncommon to feel anger toward God for allowing the loss to happen.

While some people feel guilt about expressing it, others find relief by allowing themselves to vent this anger directly at God. Some may even shake their fists at the heavens, while others may turn away from their religion altogether.


In Part 2, we discuss ways to come to terms with these painful questions.

3/22/18

grave matters

The decision about when to visit your late spouse/partner’s gravesite can be a difficult one.

Many widowed hesitate to take this step. Some of the reasons may include:

• a wish to avoid additional pain.

• ambivalent feelings about the relationship with the deceased.

• the possibility of other losses being stirred up (other loved ones may be buried nearby).


If you are feeling uncertain about visiting the cemetery, consider the following from our post Reluctant to Visit the Gravesite?:

Have you visited your late spouse/partner’s grave since the funeral?

If not, do you find you just can’t bring yourself to go? Even when family and friends offer to accompany you?

Is there guilt because this ritual is one a widowed partner is “supposed to observe”?


Actually, there are no rules about this. Although some faiths mark the end of the first year of mourning by observing a memorial for the deceased, visiting the gravesite is otherwise a very personal choice.

(Read more)

3/19/18

lost your appetite since losing your spouse/partner?



Feel like nothing will ever taste good again?

Wish people would stop nagging you to eat when you just don't feel hungry?

If your spouse/partner has recently died, you probably haven't felt much like eating. It's not uncommon to feel a loss of appetite in the first month or so after a death, when your body as well as your mind is in a state of shock. Keep in mind that your appetite should slowly begin to return with time. In any case, always make sure your doctor knows about your recent loss and any prolonged problems you have with your appetite.

We came across the following article (excerpted here) and a slideshow on WebMD. Though not specifically about bereavement, they offer helpful information about coping with appetite loss due to depression and general stress:

Dietary changes can bring about changes in your brain structure, both chemically and physiologically. Those changes can improve mood and mental outlook. Here are 10 tips for eating if you or a loved one is recovering from clinical depression.


1. Eat a diet high in nutrients
Nutrients in foods support the body's repair, growth, and wellness. Nutrients we all need include vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and even a small amount of fat. A deficiency in any of these nutrients lead to our bodies not working at full capacity – and can even cause illness.

2. Fill your plate with essential antioxidants
Damaging molecules called free radicals are produced in our bodies during normal body functions – and these free radicals contribute to aging and dysfunction. Antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E combat the effects of free radicals. Antioxidants have been shown to tie up these free radicals and take away their destructive power.

Studies show that the brain is particularly at risk for free radical damage. Although there’s no way to stop free radicals completely, we can reduce their destructive effect on the body by eating foods high in powerful antioxidants, including:

Sources of beta-carotene: apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collards, peaches, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato.
Sources of vitamin C: blueberries, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, tomato.
Sources of vitamin E: margarine, nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, wheat germ.

3. Eat “smart” carbs for a calming effect
The connection between carbohydrates and mood is linked to the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. We know that eating foods high in carbohydrates (breads, cereal, pasta) raises the level of serotonin in the brain. When serotonin levels rise, we feel a calming effect with less anxiety.
So don’t shun carbs – just make smart choices. Limit sugary foods and opt for smart carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, which all contribute healthy carbs as well as fiber.

4. Eat protein-rich foods to boost alertness
Foods rich in protein, like turkey, tuna, or chicken, are rich in an amino acid called tyrosine. Tyrosine boosts levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. This boost helps you feel alert and makes it easier to concentrate. Try to include a protein source in your diet several times a day, especially when you need to clear your mind and boost your energy.

Good sources of protein foods that boost alertness: beans and peas, lean beef, low-fat cheese, fish, milk, poultry, soy products, yogurt.

5. Eat a Mediterranean-type diet
The Mediterranean diet is a balanced, healthy eating pattern that includes plenty of fruits, nuts, vegetables, cereals, legumes, and fish. All of these are important sources of nutrients linked to preventing depression.

A recent Spanish study, using data from 4,211 men and 5,459 women, found that rates of depression tended to increase in men -- especially smokers -- as folate intake decreased. The same increase occurred for women -- especially those who smoked or were physically active -- but with a decreased intake of another B-vitamin: B12. This wasn't the first study to discover an association between these two vitamins and depression. Researchers wonder whether poor nutrient intake leads to depression or whether depression leads people to eat a poor diet.

Folate is found in Mediterranean diet staples like legumes, nuts, many fruits, and particularly dark green vegetables. B12 can be found in all lean and low-fat animal products, such as fish and low-fat dairy products.

6. Get plenty of vitamin D
Vitamin D increases levels of serotonin in the brain. Researchers, though, are unsure how much vitamin D is ideal. There are individual differences based on where you live, the time of year, your skin type, and your level of sun exposure. Researchers from the University of Toronto noticed that people who were suffering from depression, particularly those with seasonal affective disorder, tended to improve as their levels of vitamin D in the body increased over the normal course of a year. The recommendation is to try to get about 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day from food if possible.

7. Select selenium-rich foods
Selenium is a mineral that is essential to good health. In a small study from Texas Tech University, supplementation of 200 micrograms a day for seven weeks improved mild and moderate depression in 16 elderly participants. Other studies have also reported an association between low selenium intakes and poorer moods.

It is possible to take in too much selenium so that it becomes toxic. But this is unlikely if you're getting it from foods rather than supplements, and it can't hurt to make sure you're eating foods that help you meet the recommended intake for selenium, which is 55 micrograms a day. The good news is that foods rich in selenium are foods we should be eating anyway. They include:

Beans and legumes
Lean meat (lean pork and beef, skinless chicken and turkey)
Low-fat dairy products
Nuts and seeds (particularly brazil nuts)
Seafood (oysters, clams, sardines, crab, saltwater fish, and freshwater fish)
Whole grains (whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.)

8. Include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet
We know that omega-3 fatty acids have innumerable health benefits. Recently, scientists have revealed that a deficit of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with depression. In one study, researchers determined that societies that eat a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids have a higher prevalence of major depressive disorder than societies that get ample omega-3 fatty acids. Other epidemiological studies show that people who infrequently eat fish, which is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, are more likely to suffer from depression.

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids: fatty fish (anchovy, mackerel, salmon, sardines, shad, and tuna), flaxseed, and nuts. Sources alpha-linolenic acid (another type of omega-3 fatty acid): flaxseed, canola oil, soybean oil, walnuts, and dark green leafy vegetables.

3/15/18

reflections: irish words of wisdom


* May you have the hindsight to know where you've been, the foresight to know where you're going and the insight to know when you're going too far.


* May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and the road downhill all the way to your door.


* A friend's eye is a good mirror.


*Even a small thorn causes festering.


* When a twig grows hard it is difficult to twist it. Every beginning is weak.


* As you slide down the banisters of life may the splinters never point the wrong way.


* May your troubles be as few and as far apart as my Grandmothers teeth.

3/12/18

widowhood way back when: wakeful irish; part 2



With a nod to St. Patrick’s Day, here is part 1 of an excerpt from the book, Of Irish Ways by Mary Murray Delany. We discovered this on http://www.funeralwise.com/:


Mourning and Merrymaking

Wakes lasted through two or three nights. Food, tobacco, snuff, and liquor were plentiful. Out in the countryside, the liquor served consisted of whiskey or poteen, which is a very potent and illegal Irish homemade brew.

Laughter and singing as well as crying filled the air as mourners shared humorous stories involving the deceased. In addition to this seeming merriment, games were played.

While this may appear to have been disrespectful of the dead, it was not the intention. It is thought that the merrymaking aspects of these wake customs were influenced by the Irish pagan heritage as well as the need to stay awake for such a long period of time. The church frowned upon these activities and tried hard to discourage the people from indulging in them, mostly to no avail.

No emotion was left out of the mourning process. Between the extremes of tears and laughter, heartfelt poetical lamentations and boisterous songs, there were debates. As the mourners gathered round the kitchen table, poteen or whiskey laden tea in hand, it was inevitable that discussions would begin. Often these debates turned heated as one might expect given that the most common topics concerned religion, politics or economics.

Mourners Pay Final Respects

One last opportunity for friends and neighbors to pay respects to the deceased came on the morning of the funeral. The body was placed in a coffin and brought outside the house. There, the open coffin was laid across some chairs, where it remained until time to carry it to the graveyard. Mourners kiss the deceased prior to the lid being placed on the coffin.

The journey to the church and then onto the graveyard was a long and arduous trip. Four of the closest relatives carried the coffin at a quick pace. They would be relieved by four more along the way and so it went until they reached the church. After the service, the procession would continue, again on foot, until reaching the graveside. The coffin was lowered into the grave and the clay, the common soil in Ireland, was shoveled over it. The spade and shovel were laid on top of the new grave in the form of a cross. Prayers were said, bringing the wake and funeral to a close.

Who says funerals have to be dull?

3/8/18

widowhood way back when: wakeful irish; part 1



With a nod to St. Patrick’s Day, here is Part 1 of an excerpt from the book, Of Irish Ways by Mary Murray Delany. We discovered this on http://www.funeralwise.com/:


Part 1
Irish Wakes and Funeral Customs of Old

Until modern times, Irish wake customs ran the gamut from profound grieving to what appeared to be rollicking good fun. This was especially true if the deceased was elderly. This curious mixture borne of a cultural blend of paganism and Christianity survives today in a severely toned-down fashion.

Wakes of times gone by began with neighbor women washing the body of the deceased and preparing it to be laid out on a bed or a table, often in the largest room of the house. The body was covered in white linen adorned with black or white ribbons, flowers for the body of a child. Lighted candles were placed around the body. Clay pipes, tobacco and snuff were also placed in the room. Every male caller was expected to take at least a puff. The smoke kept evil spirits from finding the deceased. Usually, a pipe and tobacco were placed on a table next to the body. Occasionally, a pipe was laid on the chest of the deceased male. Clocks were stopped at the time of death. Mirrors were turned around or covered.

Watching Over the Deceased and Keening

Once the body was prepared, it was never left alone until after burial. Someone, usually a woman, sat in the same room until it was taken away. According to custom, crying couldn’t begin until after the body was prepared lest it attract evil spirits that would take the soul of the departed. However, once the body was properly prepared, the keening began. The Caointhe, the lead keener, was first to lament the deceased. Keeners, especially the Caointhe, recited poetry lamenting the loss of the loved one in addition to crying and wailing. All the women in the house joined in, especially as each new caller arrived to pay his or her respects.

Find out more in Part 2.

3/5/18

7 tips for deciding what to do with your spouse/partner's belongings


How do you know when the time is right to clear out your spouse/partner's belongings?

This important decision has few clear guidelines. Well-meaning family and friends may pressure you to "get rid of" cherished possessions you don't feel ready to let go of. Or you yourself may feel anxious to "get rid of" painful reminders of your loss. But what's the rush? We urge you not to dispose of anything before you first consider these tips:

1. Trust your own instincts about the right time to tackle this difficult process. Take your time and don't rush. The hasty decision you make today may become tomorrow's regret.

2. Ask a trusted family member or friend for help in packing things up and/or making arrangements.

3. Set a realistic timetable for completing this process. Make allowances for how grief is affecting you. Assume there will be times when, despite your best intentions, you won't feel up to dealing with this.

4. Start by first getting rid of items you feel least attached to. Try to imagine what your spouse would want done with their possessions.

5. Don't kid yourself into believing that by getting rid of painful reminders, you can avoid the pain. Allowing yourself to feel the loss is an important part of getting through it and is actually emotionally beneficial in the long run.

6. Hold on to whatever possessions give you comfort right now.

7. Move items you're undecided about to another location, such as rented storage. This allows you some breathing space before making more permanent decisions.


Be sure to give yourself the time you need and trust your instincts about what's best for you.

3/1/18

when sudden death strikes


Whenever we hear of the recent, unexpected death of a celebrity it reminds us of the fragility of life and highlights the special challenges facing surviving spouses, family and friends.

If you’ve lost your spouse/partner to a sudden death or know someone who has, understanding the following tips from our book may help you cope:

1.) When death comes unexpectedly, it seems unreal, like a bad dream that will be over once you wake up. Expect this sense of unreality to persist for awhile.

2.) With any sudden death, there is almost always unfinished business: unresolved conflicts, words either spoken in anger or not at all, plans left unclear or incomplete. You’re cheated of the opportunity to put things in order before the finality of death.

3.) You may feel rage over the unfairness of what has happened.

4.) You have to struggle with a sense of helplessness as events following the death move you along with them. There is often a need to place blame somewhere.


With any sudden death, expect the mourning process to take somewhat longer than usual, as the shock of the loss is generally greater than with a death that was anticipated. Be gentle with yourself and take the time you need to grieve. Learn more in this excellent article by Barbara Paul, Ph.D., Reactions to Sudden or Traumatic Loss.

Please send us your thoughts and/or reactions.