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What if I don’t feel like being “Merry”?

 

The holidays are typically a time of family. A time of gathering. A time to bring hearts and mind home. For those of us who have experienced a loss, however, things are different. WE are different and it helps to acknowledge that truth, difficult as it may seem. The carols ring hollow, the lights too bright, and the gatherings feel too sad when there is an empty place in the circle of family.

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Each journey of grief is unique. It is singular to you. You may feel overwhelmed by emotion, anger or sadness. You may feel debilitated by loss. You may feel empty. You may just want to tuck your sadness inside. Your heart has been broken and you are seeking for ways to put it back together. But how does one do that?

Not only that, how do we get through a season of celebrating and merriment when we feel anything BUT “merry”? How do we even begin to approach the holidays now that someone so important, so central to our lives, is gone?

We can still find comfort in some of our regular traditions, despite the fact that they will feel different this year. We can bask in the warm glow of the memories invoked by those traditions. We can cherish those moments from years past.

It can also be healing to find NEW traditions, new ways to celebrate the holidays, and have new experiences. Change it up a bit, make new memories. You are not the same, so why should everything about the holidays be the same, too? That way you can find moments of happiness and enjoyment without the pang of loss, and without remembering how different that specific activity or situation used to be.

We could choose to spend time with others who may have experienced a similar loss, and sit in a room full of people who understand. You could attend a special holiday service of remembrance, or even a support group. It is incredibly healing to sit in a room filled with compassion, united in shared experience.

Community service can also be a way to have a positive influence on the lives of others and keep us focused on the meaning of the season. Helping others keeps us busy, reminds us (and them) that we are not alone, and makes the world a better place.

We can also find comfort, solace, and meaning in rituals and in honoring the life of the loved one who has passed on. It doesn’t matter whether it was a recent loss or years have passed, there are still positive effects. It may seem that acknowledging the difficult feelings would make us feel worse, and that if we take the stopper out of the bottle where our feelings are safely stored they will all come flowing out and we won’t be able to control it. Wouldn’t it just remind us of what used to be and those who are no longer with us? Studies have proven otherwise.

It seems that individuals who have experienced a loss and participated in such rituals and talked about them said that they actually felt LESS sad once the ritual was over. They also found that rituals, which are deliberate and controlled gestures, help people overcome grief by counteracting the turbulence and chaotic feelings that follows loss.

Rituals can be of benefit no matter how much time has passed since the death of a loved one, since there is no timetable for grief. Rituals and acknowledging even our painful and difficult feelings can help us take back some control over our emotions so that they don’t overwhelm us. Rituals can help us feel empowered to face the situations we find ourselves in, and in the midst of the overwhelming hustle and bustle that can occur during the holiday season that control is something that can help us feel more secure.

However we choose to do so, we can find meaning and healing through pausing to remember our departed loved ones. We could share a memory, speak their names, or help someone in their honor. We can reflect in thankfulness for the role they played in our lives, and acknowledge the difficult truth that the holidays without them will be different this year. Everything is different, yes. But we are also different, we are better, because we had them, our precious loved one, in our lives. And that love needs to be recognized.

Our wish for all of you in this room this holiday season is that you may find what you need. May you find comfort in the stories that your loved ones leave behind. May you find peace in your heart; may you be surrounded with people in your life who bring you joy and a respite from loneliness. We also hope that you may, in your own unique way, find the faith and courage to put one foot in front of the other, to continue on your journey thorough this life. It is indeed a season of sorrow, but also a season filled with joy, memories, and hope. May you carry the spirit of the season in your heart, and may the memories of your loved one be fresh in your mind, for it is there that they will never be far from you.

We wish you all the peace and tranquility this season provides.

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Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Funeral Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist

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

Resources:

In Grief, Try Personal Rituals: The psychology of rituals in overcoming loss, restoring broken order,The Atlantic, by EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH

“Holiday Service of Remembrance 2017,” by Glenda Stansbury, In-Sight Institute Resource Book

 

 

Here Come the Holidays

This Saturday, November 18th we will be hosting our annual Holiday Remembrance in which we honor those families who are grieving the death of a loved one during this past year with a service of remembrance. It is hour privilege to provide this time for families and friends to prepare for the coming holidays while still grieving the reality that someone we love will no longer be here to celebrate the holidays. But, the holidays are coming!

I want to share some practical suggestions for grieving families preparing for the coming holidays.

1. Be intentional about selecting people with whom you will spend the holidays

Keep in mind that some of those people may be grieving with you. There are those who don’t know how to relate to you. There are even those who will say some seemingly stupid things. It is important that you spend holiday time with people you feel truly get where you are emotionally.

2. Get with your family members to discuss your holiday plans

Attempt to have a face-to-face meeting. However, you can include distant family members through Skype. Make sure to include the children. No matter the age, they        will need to be able to share their feelings and feel a part of the process.

3. Think About your family traditions

Some traditions may suddenly become difficult. Talk with your family about those traditions that might cause you the most stress and anxiety. Be honest about the things that you just might not have the energy to do; things like writing and sending Christmas cards, decorating your home or holiday baking. This would be a good time to allow family members to share their heartfelt thoughts about the family        traditions as well.

4. Be sure and take care of yourself during the holidays

Think in advance about how you will react when the grief and stress is overwhelming. Is there a special friend or family member you can call? Will you want to attend a support group; maybe begin writing a journal.  Remember that exercise can be your best friend. Give yourself permission to cry, even if its in the food court at the mall.

5. Allow your deceased loved one to still be a part of your holidays

Be sure and speak your loved one’s name during the holidays. If you are at a point where you feel you can, carry on one of their favorite traditions. Let your friends and family members know that it is OK to mention your loved one’s name as well.

The holidays are coming. But, they don’t have to run over you!

Blessings & Peace this holiday season.

 

Greg Webber, Director

Morrissett Community Care & Aftercare

 

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Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service

6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
Serving the Richmond area since 1870

 

All Saints Day and the Importance of Remembering

In the Christian tradition November 1 is often observed as All Saints Day. On or around this date many believers all over the globe hold special services or perform rituals to honor those who have passed. According to the Church of England it is a time “to remember all the saints of the church, both known & unknown.”

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The observances vary greatly between countries. Candles are lit, flowers and wreaths are placed near memorials or on graves, prayers are spoken. In Poland part of paying respect to deceased loved ones includes taking a portion of the the day to clean up cemeteries and family tombs. In observance of All Saints Day some churches in the United States hold special services, and during those services the names of those who have passed during the previous calendar year are spoken.

The Rev. Dr. Nancy Rock Poti shared these words about All Saints Day: “All Saints Day is now a day to remember those who have glorified God with their lives. In the early church the ritual and remembrance focused on church martyrdom and saints who did not have a named feast day. Today we reflect on the witness of those who serve and further the “already but not yet ” kingdom of God in an amazing array of callings. In the beautifully simple hymn text by Lesbia Scott, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” the saints are doctors and lawyers and teachers and soldiers; they are young and old people we meet in the street, in shops and schools — of the now and of the past. The text boldly proclaims that “I mean to be one, too.” We are, and have been, a part of the wonderful continuum of God’s beloved community. To remember those who have gone before us, who have informed (and perhaps helped to transform us by being as Christ to us) is not to idolize but rather to acknowledge the gift of life and the threads that weave us together for the continued care of one another and God’s good earth. So, on November 1, we enter into a time of thanksgiving and remembrance as we celebrate –finding joy even in our sorrow of missing dear ones because we are indeed surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. We are the communion of saints, gathered in, nourished and sent out, again and again and again.”

Taking a moment to pause in thankfulness and honor the memories of those who have gone before us can be done no matter what your spiritual or religious beliefs. Rituals, no matter how simple, can be a source of healing and strength. Remembering those who have influenced us in the past and reflecting upon departed loved ones can be a grounding experience and remind us where we came from. It can be encouraging and empowering to reconnect with our roots and recall the lessons taught through the lives of those important to us. We can remember the wisdom they imparted and acknowledge the impact they had on the world.

Speaking the names of those who have passed and telling stories about their life can help keep memories of them from fading. Memorializing the dead can also have a positive effect on those who remain on this earth. It can be comforting to hold our departed loved ones close in our hearts. It can also help us feel empowered to continue conducting our own lives in a way that honors on their legacy and possibly even carries on their good works.

It is said we all die twice. The first is when our body ceases to function. The second is when our name is spoken for the last time. By taking the time to honor those who have died we can help their name, and their memory, live on. That in turn can help rejuvenate us as we continue on with this process of living. Hopefully, when our time on earth is done, we will also leave behind a life’s story worthy of remembering.

 

Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Funeral Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist

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

The Power of Silence

Grief is not always about someone dying. We experience grief as a result of loss. There are many kinds of loss. When we lose someone we love due to physical death, we grieve. We also grieve when we lose our good health, when we lose a job, when we lose money, when our best friend relocates. There can be a level of grief when we move out of our home we’ve lived in for thirty to forty years. Retirement can bring grief.

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Parents grieve as their children grow up. Even within the celebration of driver’s licenses, prom dates and graduation, we sometimes grieve over their increasing independence. For them, it’s an adventure. For parents, it often brings a sense of loss. Our daughter is thirty-five years old, yet my wife Kathy still becomes a little melancholy when school starts in the fall with the turning leaves and the sounds of school buses. Why? Because from the first time we pinned that bus tag on her little sweater and walked her out to her first school bus ride, Kathy began marking time with each September in our daughter’s life. She was losing her little girl and could do nothing to stop it.

So, we all grieve loss.

In the fall of 1985 I was the head football coach of a small high school whose football program had struggled over the years. We had lost every game that season going into our final game. We worked so hard in preparation to beat our county rival. The kids played their hearts out. We lost 7-6.

I spoke to the team, the players showered and the coaches went home. The sports editor for the local paper waited until everyone was gone to interview me. He was a personal friend. We even attended the same church. As I sat on a that wooden bench in the empty locker room, the musty aroma of sweat along with the humidity of hot showers and soap lingered in the air. I sat in total silence feeling such a deep sense of loss. I was grieving; grieving for my players; grieving the enormous weight of my failure when my sports writer friend stepped through the locker room door.

I sat there motionless, barley looking up. Then he did something I will never forget. He just sat there next to me. He put his arm around my shoulders and continued to sit there not saying a word. We just sat on that hard bench staring at the tile floor littered with pieces of athletic tape. Then, after what seemed to be a long silence, he patted me on the knee; stood up and left without saying a word.

My friend grieved with me.

When someone we love is grieving a loss, sometimes the best thing we can do is just be there. No small talk; no pithy comments; no need to verbally express how sorry we are. Just sit there with them. Just grieve with them. Don’t be intimidated by the silence. If they want to talk, they will talk. A look, a hug, an arm around the shoulder may be the only language necessary. We tend to be uncomfortable with silence. In fact, we often avoid silence. But, silence can be powerful. there is comfort and healing in the silence.

What my friend taught me about grief and loss is that we need to grieve with people…and when necessary, use words.

 

Greg Webber,
Morrissett Community Care-
Aftercare Team

 

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

How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving

The days following the death of a loved one can be overwhelming. We find ourselves not only coping with grief, but also having to deal with things such as finances or funeral arrangements. It can be difficult, complicated, and exhausting. During such times we are in great need of the support of our friends and family. It is also during those times that many people find themselves at a loss as to how best to support someone who has suffered a loss.

Several people have shared what they found the most helpful while they were grieving. They also gave specific suggestions on what to do, as well as what NOT to do, when someone you care about has experienced the death of a loved one.

 

Reach out. Whether it is physically or electronically, reach out and let them know you care. “Just send a card, make a phone call, say something on social media, anything. Assume that no one else did.”

Show up. Whether it is to hug them or help them, show up. Your presence can be a great comfort. Sit with them and listen, sit with them in silence, or even just cry with them.

Help. Don’t just say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Say, “WHAT can I do to help you?” Bringing food along with things like paper plates, plastic ware, and napkins can be helpful, as well as straightening the house or answering the phone. Sometimes that help or food can be even more needed days and weeks after the funeral is over. Continue reading

The Last Gifts

In the few weeks since my father died, I have been thinking a lot about the gifts that came with his passing. There has been great sadness, but there also have been great blessings. I want to share them because they are blessings that others can have in difficult times of loss as well.

giftIn this guest post Elizabeth Barnes discusses the unexpected blessings that she discovered after her father passed away.  

The Gift of Security

My parents had set up not only a will but a trust which meant that everything that was my dad’s automatically transferred over to my mother on his death.

That meant that she did not have to worry about her financial situation, deal with a lot of pesky paperwork, hiring an attorney, or petitioning a court at an extremely difficult time for her.

It is not hard or very expensive to set up a trust, and most wills and trust attorneys take credits cards or will set up a payment plan. Autism Dad and I have our appointment with our trust attorney set for January.

 The Gift of Planning

I learned how valuable it was to pre-plan final arrangements. There are many questions that need to be answered, and having all of that sorted out before-hand is a great kindness to grieving loved ones.

The sister and I who had to travel out of state were also very grateful that our father was kept on a respirator long enough for us to be able to say good-bye. This was important closure that made his passing easier on us.

My husband and will include in our estate planning clear instructions as to our arrangements, and that it would be ok to keep us alive long enough for loved ones to arrive, to make it easier for our loved ones.

 The Gift of Kindnesses

Our family has been the recipient of so many kindnesses, it has been extraordinary. The gifts of food, cards, and offers of assistance have been incredibly helpful.

One of the best gifts I saw was the friend of my mom’s who brought over paper plates, napkins, and plastic ware so that she did not have to keep washing dishes.

Brilliant.

The other thing I have appreciated is that my mom has been saying “yes” to the offers of help. Instead of trying to be independent she has been smart and strong enough to say “yes, I need help,” asking for things like her crafty friend wrapping Christmas presents for her, and asking her outgoing friends to contact their social circles so my mom doesn’t have to.

Letting someone help is as valuable as offering help.

 The Gift of No Regrets

I spoke to my Dad on the phone the morning before his stroke – for years we talked almost every day. When I looked back and asked myself what I would have done differently if I had known it was the last time we would speak, the answer was: nothing.

My father and I had a great relationship that we had worked hard on over the years. We loved and respected each other such that at the end there was no unfinished business, no lingering regrets, only love and memories.

I am so grateful for that.

 The Gift of Life

My father was 79 when he passed and, had you asked me, I would have assumed that due to his age he would be unable to donate organs and other life-saving gifts from his passing.

I would have been wrong.

My mom authorized taking donations from my father, and it is our family’s great wish that they will be useful to someone, maybe even saving a life. Life from my father’s death would be the greatest gift of all.

(The original post by Elizabeth Barnes can be found at the website “Autism Mom.”)

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

Riding the Waves of Grief

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”
― Vicki Harrison

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To be human is to love, and with love comes the possibility of loss. Each person at some point in their lives will experience grief, and each person will experience that grief in their own unique way. There is no correct way to grieve. What’s important is we allow ourselves to experience that grief.

Grieving can be frightening and can cause a person to feel a certain loss of control. Some people dam up their feelings because they think that once the floodgates open they will be overwhelmed. What they may not realize is that those feelings will find a way to bubble back up somehow.

As written in a previous post, The Journey of Grief,  “It is healing to allow yourself to feel and express whatever complex emotions you encounter. Hiding from your feelings, however, can have a negative impact on your well-being.” Anger, depression, sleep disturbances and more can all be signs of unexpressed emotional conflict.

Other people learn to cope with their loss, but later grow frustrated with themselves when they experience the pain anew. They thought they had learned to cope with the pain and had overcome it, and then one day a new wave of emotion comes crashing in.

Grieving is not a linear process. Some days we might feel almost normal, or our new version of normal. Other days we might feel the pain of the loss of our loved one as keenly as the day they left, even years later. This is all a natural part of the experience of grief.

So what can we do instead? We can be gentle with ourselves and practice good self-care. Find activities that give us strength and healing. Go for a walk, connect with our “safe” people, get enough rest, take up a new hobby. We can find our spiritual center and pray or meditate . We can also talk about our loved one and remember the ways that they impacted our life.

All of these things can help make us strong. They can help keep us afloat. That way, when the waves return, we can face them knowing that we will not drown.

Whether the waters of emotion are calm, or the waves are strong, what matters is that we keep trying learn how to swim.

 

~Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Funeral Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist

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

 

Guiding Children Through Grief and Loss

When someone who we love dies it creates an array of complicated emotions which take time to process. Coming to terms with loss and grief can be even more difficult for children, whose minds are not yet fully developed. Many of them have never experienced such a loss before, and that can make it even more frightening and overwhelming. Children need the love and support of caring adults to help them navigate through this new territory, and this article has some tips to help both of you as you help each other.

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First of all, it is important that we talk to children about death. This is not an easy subject for many. How you talk to them will be dependent on their age, but in general it is important to keep the discussion in honest, simple terms that a child can understand: “Grandpa had an illness that was too much for his body, but don’t worry, people don’t die every time they get sick.” Also, don’t use confusing expressions like “they fell asleep” or “Nana is gone.” Young children think in literal terms, and this can confuse and upset them. An adult whose mother passed away when she was eight years old shared her personal experience: “They told me my mom was gone, but I remember thinking that they lied. She was lying right there in that box!” She then spent the entire rest of the visitation wondering why her mother didn’t wake up, since the adults had also told her that her mother was “asleep.” Telling a child that death is like “going to sleep and never waking up” is a confusing analogy, and may make them afraid to go to bed at night.  Continue reading

What You Hang On To After Losing a Child

There is an unexplainable hollowness that comes with losing a child. I’ve heard loss-moms explain it as a hole in their heart or an empty feeling. I’ve searched for words to do it justice but haven’t found one yet. You grow a child and birth them and before you see how their hair touches their shoulders, or if their laugh turns into yours, they’re drifting away and you’re holding the tiniest thread of what you once had. (Written by Jessica Watson from Four Plus an Angel.)

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To survive you tell yourself they’re holding this thread too, through pinched together fingers or a chubby fist or the growing hands you’ve imagined. Some days you might be the only one remembering, or at least it feels that way. On those days you need reassurance that the child who left was ever here at all and the thread you’re holding is proof.

When your child first passed away you thought sure you were going somewhere too, you were drifting further from here and closer to there but you fell hard right where you were needed; a place unfathomably far. The thread you share makes you different and less whole and often dangling mid-air, but at some point your feet feel the ground again. You reach for your thread and get up when pain pushes you down because loss taught you the art of holding tight.

You tie your thread to your wrist and learn not to feel awkward about taking it out and spilling it through the air. Continue reading

The New Normal

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Once someone we love has died, our new normal is something completely different from anything we have known before. We are different than we were before. Our lives are different than they were before. “Normal” seems like something far, far away.  Unfortunately, this is the new normal.  Losing someone you love dearly, who was an integral part of your life, is an intense and incredibly difficult experience.  Often, bereaved people find that their grief can be misunderstood by others who have not experienced the same kind of loss or who have not yet faced the death of someone they love deeply or who was an integral part of their lives.  Sometimes in grief, it can seem nearly impossible to understand yourself, much less find others who can understand.

(This guest post is an excerpt of an article written by Karla Helbert, LPC, a therapist and grief counselor in Richmond, Virginia. The original article can be found here.) 

If this is the first time you are experiencing the loss of a loved one, or if you are having difficulty understanding the intensity of your grief in this loss, you may feel completely alone, confused and possibly afraid.  You may be experiencing thoughts, feelings, and unusual phenomena you never have experienced before.  You should know that in light of what has happened,  the things you are experiencing are normal.  The pain and symptoms of grief impact every area of your life. Your body, mind, thoughts, feelings, and spirit.  The journey of grief is difficult, but it can bring some comfort to know that you are not alone. Information about the normal ways that grief can affect us can be very helpful.  Sadly, though nearly all of us will experience the death of someone we love, and the pain that follows, very rarely does anyone tell us what to expect. Continue reading