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The “Big Why”

The Big “Why”?

She is surrounded by family as her tired, frail, ninety-five-year-old body can no longer go on. Her family grieves, yet, understands. Another family receives the shocking word that their fifty-two-year-old husband and dad dies suddenly from a heart attack. The disbelief and sudden grief are real, but they understand. Traffic accidents, drownings and cancer take so many lives. But there is one death that is perhaps the most difficult with which to deal. When a suicide occurs, those left behind are faced with the “Big Why?”. It is a question that may never be answered with understanding or certainty. One of the greatest influencers of suicide is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We are seeing a steady rise in the numbers of our veterans who succumb to suicide as a direct result of PTSD.

Over the years, I have embraced survivors of suicide. They carry the “Big Why?” with them all the time. And that question is so often accompanied by guilt. The guilt resulting from feelings that they somehow should have been able to see it coming; that, in hindsight, there were tangible signs and indicators of the person’s suicidal path. It’s the, “(Big) Why did I not see it coming?”

There are a few more reactions to the “Big Why?” of Suicide.

Anger

Unlike many forms of death, suicide can produce anger toward the deceased. When a person is murdered or killed by someone driving under the influence, we tend to be understandably angry with the person we deem responsible for that person’s death. Suicide is different. The anger toward the one who took his own life is rooted in the indignant “Big Why?”Why would you do this to your family and friends?” “I’m angry that you chose to check out!”

Fear

The other reaction involves the heightened awareness of our own mortality. It is the fearful thought that we too, in our own dark circumstances, might possess the capability of taking our own lives. It is not uncommon for suicide to enter our darker thoughts. I can only imagine the struggle that the actor Robin Williams was experiencing when he chose to end his life. He was a brilliant artist whose mental gymnastics and improvisational skills identified him. His ability to always be two steps ahead of his own conversation was unrivaled. It is what made Robin Williams…well…Robin Williams! But Parkinson’s Disease with Lewy Bodies Dementia would become a silent thief, robbing him of his identity. I am saddened by the emotional anguish that preceded his decision that he just couldn’t continue to live with that dreaded prognosis. I asked myself, “What would I have done in his situation?” “Do I have a breaking point?”

Condemnation

This is a tragically destructive reaction to suicide. There are those whose theological disposition regards suicide as a sin God will not forgive. As a theologian, my response to that position is that I trust God’s heart more than a limited or flawed interpretation of God’s mind. It also pre-supposes that the person’s relationship with God was nullified due to the despair of mental and emotional pain; that God would never accept the soul of a person whose mental or emotional pain extinguished the smallest light of hope. I will always defer judgement to a fair, merciful and loving God.

We just don’t know why a person gives up. It is very sad that we are often unable to count the many heroic battles that a person may have fought and won before darkness overtook them. It seems unfair that all the good acts and impulses of such a person should be forgotten or blotted out by that tragic irreversible act. I believe that our reaction should be one of love and sympathy, not of condemnation.

A clinically depressed person’s rationality becomes blurred in those final moments; perhaps so driven by an emotional tsunami that rendered him incapable of thinking anything except an end to the pain.

Do we not all have moments when we lose control with flashes of temper, irritation or selfishness that we later regret?  Does not each one of us likely have some final breaking point – even if we have been nurtured in faith? Life inflicts much greater pressure and pain on some than it does on others. Some persons have more complicated personality traits and medical challenges than others.

There is a story written by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale some years ago that speaks to the “Big Why?”. Dr. Peale writes, “A few years ago, when a young man died by his own hand, a service for him was conducted by his pastor.  What he said that day expresses far more eloquently than I can express the message that I am trying to convey.  Here are some of his words.”

“Our friend died on his own battlefield.  He was killed in action fighting a civil war.  He fought against adversaries that were as real to him as his casket is real to us.  They were powerful adversaries.  They took toll of his energies and endurance.  They exhausted the last vestiges of his courage and strength.  At last these adversaries overwhelmed him.  And it appeared that he had lost the war.  But, did he?  I see a host of victories that he has won! For one thing – he has won admiration – because even if he lost the war, we can give him credit for his bravery on the battlefield.  And we can give him credit for the courage and pride and hope that he used through his kindnesses and thoughtfulness, through his love for his family and friends … for all things beautiful, lovely and honorable.  We shall remember not his last day of defeat, but we shall remember the many days that he was victorious over overwhelming odds.  We shall remember not the years we thought he had left, but the intensity with which he lived the years that he had.  Only God knows what this child of His suffered in the silent skirmishes that took place in his soul.  But our consolation is that God does know and understands.”

I want to share some important news with you.

Morrissett Community Care and Aftercare offers various grief support groups, such as our Widowed Support Group. Another of those groups is our SOS (Survivors of Suicide) Group. The group will be co-facilitated by Tracy Hineman and me. Tracy is one of our dedicated and compassionate directors who has experienced the pain and grief of a survivor of suicide. Our SOS Support Group has been graciously provided a meeting place at Iron Bridge Church in Chester.

If you need a safe place to work through the grief that accompanies being a survivor of suicide, please contact us. The objective of the group is to experience healing. A suicide survivor may never be able to answer the “Big Why?”, but it’s so important for you to know that you are not alone. You can find strength and hope within a group of people who understand your struggle and provide support. Please call me or text at 804-873-0441 if you would like to explore being a part of this support group.

Greg Webber

Greg Webber

 

Director, Community Care/Aftercare

Certified Celebrant

6500 Iron Bridge Rd.

Chesterfield, VA 23234

804-275-7828 (office)

804-873-0441 (cell)

greg@morrissett.com

Finding the Right Columbarium Niche

When a loved one has chosen to be cremated or if you have decided that this is the best option for the deceased, one of the options to consider is a columbarium niche. These niches are a place to store the ashes that allows you to visit them whenever you want. For people who want cremation, but also want to be placed in a cemetery, this is the right choice. But how do you purchase the best columbarium niche? We have some suggestions to help.

Price Range

Of course, as with anything, columbariums come in different price ranges. Depending on the location of the niche, (whether at the top or bottom of the columbarium), the price can vary quite a bit, so it is important to keep that in mind. The material of the columbarium can also have an impact on price.

Single or Double

Something else to consider is whether you or your loved one wants a single niche or a double. A double can ensure that their loved one’s ashes are placed with them. This is important, especially if the columbarium is not very large or is a popular one in the cemetery. A double niche allows for two urns of ashes, while a single one allows for just one. If this is a concern, contact a cremation expert in Matoaca, VA to learn more about the options.

Indoors or Outdoors?

Another item to keep in mind is whether you want an indoor niche or an outdoor one. This can also have an effect on price, so it is important to ask about that before making a decision. With an indoor niche, you can have a very elaborate columbarium without worrying about the weather causing any damage. An outdoor columbarium tends to be made of sturdier materials that can withstand rain, sun, and snow.

Religious or Not?

Columbarium niches do not have to have religious displays. There are many simple ones that offer a sedate place for relatives and loved ones to visit. Although they are in cemeteries, there are columbarium niches that are secular in appearance. Depending on your preferences, you can speak with the crematorium to find these options in nearby cemeteries. There is no reason why your loved one should be placed in a niche that states religious sentiments if that is not what they wanted. Of course, for people who do want religious symbols, the options are much broader. No matter your faith, there is a columbarium niche that will be perfect.

All of these qualities need to be taken into consideration before purchasing a niche in a columbarium. Take the time to speak with experts in the field to learn about the options so that you can make the best possible choice for yourself or a loved one. To get started in this process, contact Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service, found at 6500 Iron Bridge Rd. Richmond, VA 23234. Reach out by calling 804-275-7828 right now for the information you need.

Cremation Services: Frequently Asked Questions

These days, more and more people are turning to cremation as an option after a loved one dies. This can be for a number of reasons including cost and impact to environment, so it is definitely an option to consider. Most people have questions about the process, which can make it more difficult for them to make a decision. We have some of the most frequently asked questions below to help you and your family choose the right option after a loved one dies.

Is Cremation Really Less Expensive?

One of the reasons people choose cremation is that it is less expensive than traditional burial. With traditional burial, you have to buy a casket, pay for embalming, preparation of the body, and many other fees…all of which can add up. For people who are on a tighter budget, cremation can be the right option because it eliminates many of these extra fees. There is no need for a casket unless the family wants to purchase one, for example. And even an urn can be a simple, inexpensive container.

What Can We Do with the Ashes?

Another concern that people have with cremation is: what to do with the ashes. There are a number of options. The one most people know is scattering the ashes, but there are also columbarium niches that allow you to visit the ashes at a cemetery. There are urns of many different kinds, including some that do not look like traditional urns so that you can place them in your home without upsetting anyone. A funeral home in Midlothian, VA can help you with this decision.

Is it Better for the Environment?

Cremation tends to be better for the environment, especially if you choose options like bio-cremation, which utilizes water instead of fire to break down the body. With cremation, there is no need to worry about embalming fluid seeping into the ground or metal pieces from caskets remaining in the earth. There are even biodegradable urns that can ensure you do not put any kind of stress on the environment if you want to give a loved one a water burial after cremation.

Can the Family be Present?

Most crematoriums and funeral homes do allow the family to be present as the cremation is done. This can be a moment of closure for people dealing with grief, so it is definitely something to keep in mind. People also feel more comfortable seeing their loved one for the last time before letting go.

These are just some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to cremation. Do not be afraid to ask anything you want to know from a funeral director or cremation service provider. The more you know about the process, the more sure you will be about the right choice for a loved one’s remains. Take the time to speak with an expert like those at Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service at 6500 Iron Bridge Rd. Richmond, VA 23234. Call 804-275-7828 today to learn more.

Love Lives On

During spring and the celebration of Easter we celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, life over death, and renewal and resurrection over destruction and decay. For those who are struggling with sadness due to the illness or death of a loved one the promises of spring can feel very far away. After a long, cold and dark winter many of us are in desperate need of hope.

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So what do we do when we find ourselves find ourselves in a season of sadness? Many years ago I asked myself the same question after losing my grandmother. Her health had been deteriorating for some time, and the last few years were full of what felt like a thousand small goodbyes as I watched her disappear bit by bit. I thought I had ample time to process the loss, yet I was still unprepared for the flood of grief that enveloped me a few days after her death. I had just gotten home so I parked my car in the driveway and sat there alone, immobilized by my grief, freely letting the tears fall.

Then I looked up and looked around. Peeking through the ground were the first small shoots of spring. The phlox that had taken up only a small area when first planted many years ago had spread into a large, lush blanket of purple. Birds were chirping and gathering materials to build their nests. Squirrels scampered through the yard. The sun shone through the clouds and the signs of life were all around me.

This scene, that I had viewed so many times before, suddenly took on new meaning. As I began to reflect upon it my spirit was renewed.

There is something inspiring about seeing new life emerge out of the earth every spring. It is the fulfillment of a promise that even though a seed falls into the dark ground and waits, it will eventually emerge and grow and stretch its face towards the sun.

It is also deeply satisfying when it is life that you placed into the soil with your own hands. It still amazes me that for many types of plants and flowers if I put in the initial effort and then if I am patient, it comes back. Even though every winter the ground seems bare, it changes each spring. This gives me hope.

That day as I sat weeping in front of my home it also occurred to me that many of the plants and flowers in my garden came from the gardens of people I loved. It was a part of something that they tended and nurtured at their own home, and then they shared that care with me. Plants were cultivated so well that they multiplied, creating an ABUNDANCE of beauty and life, and there was more than enough to share. Year after year their work produces new life and growth, and it still multiplies. I have divided many of the lilies and hosta and bulbs and given them to friends, who have then shared them with their friends. Countless home are now made more beautiful because someone gently placed a small plant into the ground many years ago, and helped it grow. And ever year I still look at my garden and smile and think of them and the love they shared.

Do you see what I am trying to tell you? LOVE multiplies. Beauty grows. Good deeds multiply and have a positive effect on other people, who then want to help other people. They cycle continues on and on and on.

Looking at my garden that day made me realize that our efforts to make this world a better place will can continue to bloom and grow and add beauty to this world long after we are gone. I reminded myself that that though the body of my loved one had stilled, what they contributed to this world will remain. The lessons she taught me and the kindness she showed to others will continue to bear fruit. She also will live on in me. She still influences me every day.

Dawn breaks over the dark horizon. Spring melts the winter snow. Green tendrils emerge from the ground. Life wins, beauty, kindness and memories continue. Love lives on. And so I find hope.

 

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Jennifer Roberts Bittner

Certified Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist

Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
(804) 275-7828

 

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Don’t Waste Your Pain

March 15, 2018 Blog

 

“Don’t Waste Your Pain”

One of the indicators of managing our grief is reaching through our pain to help other people. We don’t have to move beyond our grief to do that. We just need to be headed in the right direction. Consider this: many of the heartaches, pains and difficulties we go through are there for the benefit of other people. Truth is, we will go through those challenges for a purpose greater than ourselves; to help other people navigate the very things that we’ve been going through and comfort others in the way we have been comforted. This is proof of recovery and healing. We know we’re becoming emotionally, physically, spiritually healthy when we start focusing on other people.

I have discovered three facts about pain and grief:

  1. There is no such thing as a pain/grief free life
  2. There is a purpose behind my pain and grief
  3. My pain and grief can help others      

Our greatest help to others will not come through our strengths, but through sharing our weaknesses. The amazing thing is that when we can begin to focus on helping others, we can experience additional healing in our own lives. This isn’t to say that we should deny our own grief, But, the best healers are “Wounded Healers”. One of the sentiments I often hear from those who have lost a spouse is that they feel they have nothing for which to live. This is a normal immediate grief response when losing a soul mate of thirty, forty or fifty years. That is why a support group is so very helpful. The mistake those on the outside make is to assume that older grieving spouses simply need to sign up for Geezermatch.com! I facilitated a widow support group one evening and a woman shared with the group that she was asked by a family member if she had started dating yet. She shook her head in disgust, “I’m seventy-four years old…dating? Seriously?” She shared with the group was that she was looking for purpose – not a partner. There are those who are seeking companionship, but theirs is a different type of grief. They usually have been able to maintain or recapture a sense of purpose and direction.

I would like to share some things you can do to positively impact people’s lives:   

SHARE YOUR FEELINGS

Think of the times you are asked, “How’re you doing?”  You respond quickly, “I’m OK.”  No, you are not! You’re still in the grip of grief. This doesn’t mean that you should launch into a one-hour monologue, but gentle openness can help increase their awareness and allow them to feel they can be open with their grief be as well. Don’t be surprised when someone who is grieving approaches you for help. It usually begins with the question, “Can you tell me how you handled (loved one’s) death?” We all need someone who will validate us; who will listen without attempting to fix us. One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone grieving is the gift of your heart for their pain and grief.

SHARE YOUR TAKE-AWAYS

What have you learned from your grief and pain? Are there things you would do differently as you’ve walked through the stages of grief? The unique aspect of our grief is the empathy effect it has on us. Grieving people more readily recognize grieving people. It is not uncommon for someone who has been working through their grief to have increased sensitivity to the misstep others are taking as they struggle with loss.

It is often said that it’s wise to learn from experience, but it is wiser to learn from the experiences of others. You have already navigated some things other people are going through. They can benefit greatly from your insight. You might discover that you should lead a support group. It’s not as daunting as you might think.

SHARE YOUR HOPE 

Everybody needs hope to cope. Grief can just kick the hope out of you. As you emerge from that dark and painful tunnel, hope arises. And that means that you are winning the war. There will still be battles to fight, but hope is your best weapon. Just remember that there are countless people around you who are so hungry for hope. You may well be the only brochure they read, because, unlike words on glossy tri-fold paper, you are flesh and bone with eyes that look into the eyes of hopeless others; with arms that hold the weak and tears that look just like their tears. They know that the best place to get genuine, solid hope is from someone who’s been where they are now.

Here’s the reality about grief; it doesn’t go away. I still randomly grieve over friends and family who have died. Hearing a song, seeing a photograph; even stumbling upon their contact information on my phone can momentarily produce a quick memory trip with a little added melancholy. The reason why grief stays with us is because of our love for the one to whom we’ve said, “Good bye.”, and because we are reminded of our own mortality. I even grieve at times over consequential mistakes I have made. We often refer to it as deep regret. But I have discovered that we are created with the capacity to overcome. I have also come to realize that my grief can be used for a purpose greater than me. I can live a fulfilling life as a “wounded healer” if I don’t waste my pain.

 

Greg Webber

Director, Community Care/Aftercare

Certified Celebrant

6500 Iron Bridge Rd.

Chesterfield, VA 23234

804-275-7828 (office)

804-873-0441 (cell)

greg@morrissett.com

Supporting Someone Who Is Dying: What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

The Morrissett family recently lost one of our own. She was brave and strong and kind and had successfully battled cancer for many years. Eventually her body became weary, and we all realized it was time to let her go. It was a sad time for all of us.

It is never easy to watch someone you care about struggle with illness. It is even more difficult when you know that they have begun the transition from this life to the next. Some people instinctively seem to have the ability to somehow say and do the right thing. I watched how my co-workers rallied around our friend by being physically present for her, circling her in prayer at her bedside, and supporting her needs. I was inspired by their love and compassion.

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I also came to realize I was struggling with the feeling that didn’t really know what to do. I found myself worried about somehow saying or doing the wrong thing. It occurred to me that others may feel the same way in similar situations, so I reached out for advice. This is a compilation of the responses I received, in which individuals who have been there share suggestions about how to support someone who is dying. This is by no means an exhaustive list, since the process is complicated and each situation is unique. As long as your actions are driven by love and concern it’s a place to start.

Be present. Sometimes all that is needed is the comfort of companionship, even in silence. “Don’t feel the need to fill the space with words. Your non-anxious presence will be enough.” No one wants to be alone, and being surrounded by those who care may be the best comfort as someone nears the end of their life.

Be yourself. “Talk to them like you would normally talk to them. I notice lots of people will completely change their mannerisms to a more solemn way of expression and I doubt people appreciate that.”

Be honest, and let them be honest. It’s okay to tell them that you don’t know what to do, and stress that it’s not because THEY make you uncomfortable but because you want to make sure you support them in the best way you can. “Tell them that you care for them and are a little uncertain about how to be what they need, but you love them so you will do your absolute best to listen and respect their lead. I find giving permission to people to let me know what they do or don’t want and promising that my feelings will not be hurt often let’s people feel more comfortable in being open about their needs. Sometimes just naming the feelings and being open to being uncomfortable is good.”

If they want to talk about something hard, let them. Allow them to feel what they need to feel and say what they need to say, even if their strong emotions make you uncomfortable. They may be angry, sad, confused, frightened, or simply empty. Their feelings are valid and need to be expressed and respected.

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At the Corner of Grief and Love

“At the Corner of Grief and Love”

Grief takes its toll on us. There are moments when all we want is to feel normal again. I have observed three common effects of grief. The first is physical exhaustion. When the reality of our loss sets in, we often respond with the unspeakable pain of tears. I was talking with a woman whose husband died of a heart attack. It had been only a month since his death, but she was exhausted. She told me that she was so tired of crying. She just wanted the tears to stop. Grieving can leave us with a kind of fatigue that sleep doesn’t help. We just want to make it through the day, go home and crash.

The second effect of grief is emotional emptiness. Sometimes the physical fatigue and emotional weariness overlap each other. “I don’t think I’ve got anything left in me. It’s not that I don’t care, I’m just empty inside.” We often feel the weight of the expectations of other people around us. In our quiet moments on the one hand we’re thinking, “I know they want me to get over it, but I’m just not ready yet.” On the other hand, we agonize “How long will this go on?” 

Then there is a kind of mental paralysis. It’s the despair of feeling like we just can’t think straight. Details are the last things we want to handle. Even deciding what to eat from day-to-day can wear on us. It’s interesting how grief impacts our eating. Some need to summon the will to eat food that pain has rendered tasteless. Others eat to ease the pain.

If you are traveling any of these grief roads, I urge you to connect with a grief support group. I like to describe this destination as the Corner of Grief and Love; a place where you can grieve with other people; where you don’t have to trudge through your grief all alone; where there is real hope.

Let me share with you the hope you can find at the Corner of Grief and Love:

Living with Rediscovered Meaning                  

The greatest tragedy in life is not death. It is to go through life without meaning and purpose. The death of a spouse can create feelings of uselessness. I have heard some say, “I have nothing to live for.” But there is hope when we embrace the challenge of the next chapter of life. What makes this such a challenge is that the pain of loss will never completely go away. But at the Corner of Grief and Love there are people who love us. Their presence is no mere coincidence. It can be a spiritual intersection of healing. Inviting someone into our pain and our grief is a sacred thing. We are giving them permission to look deeply into our hearts. That requires allowing someone to see our vulnerability. But it also provides the opportunity for us to experience a kind of resilience that even we may not understand.

Living Under Grace                             

What does that mean? When we are gracious to someone, it means that they don’t have to earn it. We just give it, perhaps because their situation hits close to home. I have discovered in my life that grace is simply receiving what I need instead of what I think I deserve. I have spoken with so many people who carry a deep level of guilt because of the circumstance of their loved one’s death. At the very least, we tend to wrestle with regret. Living under guilt and regret will chip away at the person we were meant to be and reduce us to thinking that we deserve to be sad and chronically unhappy. A widow once told me that she didn’t like going to social gatherings because she was afraid that she would be the “downer”. I tried to assure her that her friends would understand. I didn’t use the word grace, but there it is. Grace is the road to being free:

Free from guilt and regrets…Free from the fear of the future…Free from the expectations of other people…Free from worry!

To experience this freedom, we need to embrace the truth that grief is a pathway, not an end to unto itself. Grief is necessary for healing. And though there are similarities, each grief pathway will be unique to each person. I cannot travel your road of grief, nor can you travel mine. Yet, at the end of each grief tunnel, there is light, there is hope, there is meaning and grace. There is someone who cares…at the Corner of Grief and Love.

Greg Webber

Director, Community Care/Aftercare

Certified Celebrant

6500 Iron Bridge Rd.

N. Chesterfield, VA 23234

804-275-7828 (office)

804-873-0441 (cell)

greg@morrissett.com

 

It is Okay to Not Be Okay: Overcoming the Stigma of “Negative” Emotions

She seemed so brave at the funeral, she didn’t cry at all.”

“They died six months ago… don’t you think it’s time you moved on and didn’t talk about it so much?”

“Focus on the positive and be strong! The rest of your family needs you! At least you still have them!”

“Don’t bring that up when you see them… it might make them sad. I want to protect them so they don’t fall apart.”

“Smile! It will get better.”

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Many of us who have experienced loss or the death of a loved one have heard similar comments. When bereavement first occurs other people flock to our side with words of support. The phone rings more often than it normally does. Friends hold our hands while we weep. They patiently listen to us talk about our loved one.

As time passes, however, we may find that people are increasingly less patient and don’t want to listen to our stories anymore. They seem uncomfortable when we cry. The phone may ring even less than it did before that moment… when everything changed. That moment when it felt like the world stopped spinning, at least for us.

Eventually we realize the world has continued moving on, while it feels like we are standing still. We feel alone in our grief.

Why do people pull away from those who are going through a period of mourning? There could be any number of reasons. Maybe they don’t know what to say. Maybe they are busy and caught up in their own lives. It might be that the death of our loved one reminds them of the stark reality of death and loss. Or maybe our tears frighten them, because they don’t know how to fix it.

We live in an Instagram-ready world. Advertisements and the media are constantly inundating us with exhortations to look our best, be the best, focus on the positive. Anything to keep up the facade. Society also pushes us to “fast fixes” with promises of “Just one pill,” or “Success overnight!”

As a result there seems to be little acceptance for anything other than “perfect.” All those messy emotions? Stuff them down inside and keep your head up. Life goes on, right?

We are conditioned from an early age that “sad is bad.” We hear other people say things like “Cheer up!” “Don’t let them see you cry,” or, “It’s not that bad!” They claim it is because they want to help and protect us, and that may be true.

It is also true that seeing people upset makes others uncomfortable, and humans don’t like to feel uncomfortable. We want comfort. Perfection. Quick fixes. We don’t want painful or sad or messy.

When other people see us grieving they often begin to think of not only our discomfort, but also their own. Then they do whatever they think they can to make that discomfort stop. They want to “fix” it. This results in insensitive remarks that they think are said with the best of intentions. They think that it is their job to make it better. However, they often don’t realize that their desire to make it better may be because of their own uncomfortable feelings. It’s selfish, and they have no idea they’re doing it.

Here’s the reality: It is okay to NOT be okay.

Anger, sadness, bitterness, pain, grief~ these are not actually BAD emotions even though they may make us feel bad. They are an important part of the human experience with all its highs and lows.The full spectrum of life needs to be embraced in order to really live it. Birth and death. Love and loss. Joy and suffering. They are all a part of what makes our time on this earth so meaningful. To cut ourselves off from any one of these things means to deny ourselves the opportunity to experience the fullness of life and explore what it truly means to be human.

Why is it so often considered “brave” to put on a face of calm stoicism in the midst of our trials? Isn’t it equally brave to allow ourselves to weep and wail and gnash our teeth at the depth of our pain and at the unfairness of it all?

Grief comes in many forms. We may grieve the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, the loss of our health, or the reality that something we dreamed about will never come true. No matter what the source of that grief is, when something hurts we should allow ourselves, and others, the chance to experience and work through that grief. Hiding from it or burying it just causes more problems in the long run.

I recently watched a powerful video in which chaplain & storyteller Kate Braestrup shared thoughts on, “What a five-year-old taught me about grieving.” In the video she talks about the death of her husband and describes the way she was treated by people who wanted to “manage” her. They seemed to think that if she was allowed to do what she felt she needed to do to care for her husband she would fall apart. When they finally left her alone with her husband’s body and let her dress him in his uniform it was a sacred experience. Even though it was painful, it was also beautiful and healing.

She then went on to talk about 5-year-old Nina, whose 4-year-old best friend and cousin had died. Nina insisted that she wanted to see Andy, and her parents were concerned, saying, “We want to protect her.” Finally, after much worry, they decided to allow young Nina to spend time with her cousin’s body and pay her respects.

The scene that transpired was sacred and beautiful and healing. Nina got what she needed and she was able to say goodbye. I encourage you to watch the video for yourself to hear the whole story.

Then came a realization after Nina’s tender goodbye:

You can trust a human being with grief.

Nina knew what she needed. People know what they need. So ask them. Listen to them. Then give them the freedom to express themselves and heal and mourn in their own way and in their own time.

It is only natural to try and protect those we love. I think if we were honest with ourselves, however, we would realize that we also try to protect them from some things because it would actually be too hard for US.

Grief is messy. It’s raw. Unfiltered. Honest. And that makes us uncomfortable. But we don’t have to be afraid of it or of any other emotion. We allow ourselves to feel them and learn from them. We can grow stronger because of them.

We grieve because we love, and love is powerful. Or, as Kate Braestrup so eloquently stated at the end of her video:

“Walk fearlessly into the house of mourning; for grief is just Love squaring up to its oldest enemy. And after all these mortal human years, Love is up to the challenge.”

Love is up to the challenge.

 

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Jennifer Roberts Bittner

Certified Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist

Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
Serving the Richmond area since 1870

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Playing with Pain

January 15, 2018 

Playing with Pain

We have talked a lot about getting through the holiday season. so many people are relieved when the season is over. Mall music, radio stations and T.V. ads no longer paint audio and visual images that so easily trigger the pain of our grief. The truth is none of us have families that look like those holiday commercial families. It reminds me of those generic family prints that come in purchased picture frames and wallets. Who are these people? My family looks more like the dysfunctional Griswold family in Christmas Vacation than the sanitized families on the Hallmark Channel!

So, here we are on the other side of grief impaired holidays. Now what?

I want to suggest that there is hope; that even in our pain and grief, we can experience the brightness of a greater purpose. And here is why; Our pain isn’t meant to be wasted. I have discovered that we all metaphorically walk with a limp. There is an understanding in athletics that after the first or second game most players are playing in pain. It is the nature of the beast. Well, such is life. I once told a friend of mine that aging is simply a process of pain management. I can remember those days in my twenties when I actually got up in the morning feeling better than when I went to bed; when I didn’t need to have recovery time after an afternoon of yard work. Those who are grieving need to understand “playing in pain”. There are three facts about pain: There is no such thing about a pain-free life…There is a purpose behind your pain…Your pain can help others…Our pain isn’t meant to be wasted.

You need to hold on to the hope that your pain doesn’t have to be irrelevant. Consider this: many of the heartaches, pains and difficulties that we go through are for the benefit of other people; to help other people through the very things that we’ve been going through. This is the proof of recovery and healing: You know you’re becoming emotionally, physically, spiritually healthy when you start focusing on other people.  As we tap into the energy to help others, we move from surviving to thriving!

Your greatest help to someone will not come through your strengths but through sharing your pain and weakness. Why?  Because people are more likely helped by your pain and loss experience. In that light, we are all “Playing with pain”. I want to share five concepts that can help us play with pain and positively impact people’s lives.

Be Open with My Feelings

It’s really O.K. to tell someone you are having a rough day. The funeral is over, the family has returned home and there is no more ham and potato salad left that the neighbors brought to your house. And when you are asked how you are doing, you don’t have to fake it. It is healthy to admit that you are still, at times, angry. Your grief is what it is. We cannot be emotionally distant and impact people.

Embrace Caring People

We all know that, but we tend to want to hide our weakness and pain. Grief will often compel us to wall off people from getting close to us. One of the dangers of the pain of grief is to retreat; to enter a self-imposed solitary confinement. The reality is that we were made to live in community. We human animals need to be part of a pack, which is why I recommend a grief support group.

Tell My Story

The story of your loss can bring healing power to someone walking in your grief shoes. You might be surprised to hear someone tell you how glad they are that you had the courage to share your story.

Share What I’ve Learned 

Grief and pain can be great teachers. Sharing the lessons we’ve learned can help us discover deeper truths about ourselves as we move through the stages of grief. It is very likely that you have already walked through those valleys some people going through and they need your help.

Spread My Optimism

As the legendary New York Yankees catcher once said, “It’s not over till it’s over.” Everybody needs hope to cope. If anyone knows that life can kick the hope out from under you, it’s you. Now you have the opportunity to be a conduit of genuine, solid hope for someone who is where you have been. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, “That which does not destroy me only makes me stronger.”  The Apostle Paul said, “We have been struck down, but not destroyed.” Even Elton John sang, “I’m still standing…better than I’ve ever been…”.

Somebody is desperate to know how to handle their pain and grief. You can show them how to play with pain and come out on the other side. You can experience the truth that our pain is not wasted.

Greg Webber

Director, Community Care/Aftercare

Certified Celebrant

6500 Iron Bridge Rd.

Chesterfield, VA 23234

804-275-7828 (office)

804-873-0441 (cell)

greg@morrissett.com

The First Year of Grieving

Some people say that getting through the first year of grief is the hardest. Why is that the case? One person theorized that it’s because it is the first experience of the event without the loved one. Your brain still thinks they are supposed to be there, and it hasn’t had a chance to file the absent-loved-one-experience into a memory.

The first time you face a birthday without them, the first special anniversary, or those first holidays, everything is different. You experience a unique pang, or a flood of emotions. Someone you used to share those events with is gone, and nothing will be the same as it was before. This is a tough reality to accept. You yourself are also different because of your sorrow.

Then the calendar turns to the date that you lost them. You’ve had a year to remember those moments, feel ups and downs and to adjust to the new “normal.”

It marks a turning point. You have to decide how to move forward from there. You may even do some self reflection, question the last year and ask yourself if you need to make changes. Before someone does that, however, they have to get through that first year… but how? HOW can we move forward without someone who was such a central part of our life?

I asked some friends who had suffered the loss of a loved one if they were willing to share some of their experiences in the hopes of helping others who are in a similar situation, and they graciously agreed.

One of them shared: “My mom passed on right before Thanksgiving 20 years ago. The first couple years were the hardest, then kind of bittersweet holidays for a couple years, but fairly quickly I started to remember the good things only that time of year. I know she would want it that way.”

Another wrote, “The first year’s (moments) were the worst, but the sense of returning normalcy in the 2nd year was frequently punctured by the grief, sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes overwhelmingly.

Yes the special dates are hard, but surprisingly sometimes every day events could be hard, too. For me it has been learning how to live with the loss – the new reality – in each new circumstance and experience.”

Another individual had a similar reminder about how grief can show up in unexpected ways, “Giving yourself permission to feel emotion on the anniversary dates is important especially the first year. Oddly I thought my parent’s birthdays the first year would be tough but they ended up not being as tough as mine. On theirs I felt a gratitude for their lives and accomplishments. It was a peaceful sense of a celebrating a life well lived. On mine I felt a sense of being orphaned because the two people most excited about my birth and existence were no longer there to share that with me. Alzheimer’s took that remembering several years previous but after death there was an alone feeling I never would have expected.”

One person noticed that sometimes they felt guilty celebrating a special event that happened to fall on the anniversary of the day they lost a loved one. It is normal to feel conflicted. It can be hard to celebrate when someone who was central to your life is gone.

Another shared something that brought her comfort, “The Firsts are the hardest. It doesn’t get easier as much as coping changes. We try to focus on good memories of those who have passed. We celebrate things that bring a memory. For instance, both my grandparents died the same day, 9 years apart. It also happens to be Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas). I try to make something in the kitchen as that’s what I did with them. Or we talk of silly stories. My mother pays for the church flowers in their memory at this time of year, the closest Sunday to the date as it falls. Doing these things brings comfort and remembrance.”

A dear friend who lost her son and husband on the same day, years after the loss of another son, wrote these words, “I don’t believe the loss hits you right away. You go into a kind of safe place. I was blessed to be surrounded by the community and my church family. There is so much to do when someone dies; the phone calls, the arrangements for the funeral, the cemetery, the actual funeral. I believe in my heart, having buried my 3 men, that the first few days weren’t about me. They were about the people in my life who also wanted to celebrate the life of my loved ones. For me, after everything was done, around 4 months later the enormity of my loss hit. Waking up alone in the painful silence was more silence than my spirit could handle.”

So how do you cope with the silence, with the pain? My friend stated that it helped her to choose to stay active in her church and remember the amazing legacy her loved ones left behind.

Other shared things that brought them comfort and strength, including:

  • Allowing themselves a chance to experience or express their feelings.
  • Doing something special to help remember their loved one on dates of significance
  • Focusing on the good memories
  • Staying busy
  • Spending time with people they care about
  • Attending support groups

That being said, each person experiences grief in their own unique way and on their own schedule. What is true for someone else may not be true for you.

Some observed that even though the “firsts” had a unique pang to them, they were also surprised by unexpected grief, even years later. One individual said that 19 years later it is just as hard for her as the first year. These are further proof that each grief journey is unique.

Grief is not linear. It ebbs and flows with the days and the years, but you CAN learn to cope with it.

Once you get through that first year you still grieve, but you also will be empowered with the knowledge that you can survive. Hopefully you can even thrive, making new, happy memories as you also continue to find comfort in the memory of the one you loved. You will hold them close in your heart, knowing they will always be with you as you carry on.

The new you.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Jennifer Roberts Bittner

Certified Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist

Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
Serving the Richmond area since 1870