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Ghosts of Christmas Past

The holidays have passed, a new year has begun and yet I still find myself haunted by the ghosts of Christmas past. Every year as I get older I become increasingly aware of the passing of time and notice how things have changed, but for some reason this year was especially difficult.

I have experienced this feeling before. Grief. Emptiness. Longing for someone or something that wasn’t there. Wondering where the magic was hiding in the midst of all the supposed “sparkle” of the season. The first time was when I was about 5 years old and my parents had just separated. I remember looking around at all the presents, being surrounded by most of my loved ones, and yet feeling nothing. My father was not with us, and even though I wasn’t consciously aware of it I was missing him. I even asked my mother why I wasn’t happy, unable to understand that what I was partially missing was the way my family, and Christmas, used to be. At a very young age I was already experiencing grief.

My children experienced those pangs in a way after they learned that Santa Claus was a myth. Each of them seemed a bit forlorn during their first Christmas without the wonder of believing. They even mentioned that things felt different. To them it was as if they had lost a friend, or someone they loved had died. Not only that, change can be difficult for children and growing up is not always fun. So I tried my best to help them focus on what we did have rather than what was different. We found new ways to celebrate and find joy. Being surrounded by family that loves you and hearing their laughter can be magical, too. It doesn’t have to fly in on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. We are people of faith, so we focused even more on the true meaning of the season.

Change has come for me as well. Many family and friends who were once a central part of my life are central no longer. I grieve for the close relationships I once had with those who have moved far away. I still feel the pangs of hurt over some people who have made a deliberate decision to exclude me from their life. Most of all I desperately miss the loved ones who have passed away. Most years I have coped pretty well and found a balance between allowing myself space to grieve while also being happy. This year, however, the sad feelings caught me by surprise.

It happened while I was busy wrapping gifts and had placed an ornament in a small bag without checking the tag. My husband eventually brought the bag back to me, chuckling, and asked me if I had seen what it said: “To Mimi, Love Mark, Jenny, & Zachary.” He seemed to think the tag was cute, so he was shocked when I burst into tears. Loud, gulping sobs came out of my mouth in between ragged breaths. It was several minutes before I could even speak. I finally responded simply, “We need a different bag.” Then I cried some more, cradling the precious, shiny little gift bag.

That bag had been used during the last Christmas before everything changed for my extended family. I had bought a gift for my grandmother and she had opened it at my house and apparently left the empty bag. I was a new mother that year and yet somehow we had held a huge family gathering at my home. We were surrounded by love and laughter and it was wonderful, despite the fact that it was the first Christmas since my grandfather had died. Somehow that loss brought us closer together, and we clung more tightly to each other that year in the wake of the loss of our patriarch. Not long after that my grandmother died and events occurred that changed many of our relationships. I was left to grieve for not only my grandmother who had passed away, but also for family whom I now had to love from a distance.Family can be complicated sometimes, as can grief.
That grief can become even more difficult to bear when you lose the support of people who used to be an important part of your life.

In the years since, as I continue to age and my circumstances change, I often find myself longing for how things used to be. I also continue to miss those people who, for one reason or another, are gone. I would give anything for one more extended-family Christmas in my grandparents’ den, sitting by their tinsel-adorned tree and listening to “The Little Drummer Boy” on the record player. I never felt safer than when I was in that room. I want to talk to my grandmother and grandfather again, hear their voices tell the stories from when they were young, feel the warmth of their hugs. I want them to know my children.  Some years I find myself alone on the couch in the dark, save for the lights of our Christmas tree, and I cry just as bitterly as I did the year they died. Over ten years have passed and sometimes it doesn’t feel like it has gotten any easier. In many ways it feels like it has become more difficult. I miss it all so much that at times it feels like a physical pain. The feelings can be triggered without warning and by unexpected things, and the little gift bag was proof of that.

I have discovered that when those feelings come it is best not to fight it. I let the feelings and the tears flow, and it provides a bit of a release.  The tricky part is that I don’t dwell too long on the regret. If I spend too much time thinking about what I miss and who is gone I might be blinded from looking at the blessings right in front of me. I have a house full of people I love who love me back, and I still have a close extended family. At Christmas we take time to honor those we have lost and share stories, and we hold them close in our hearts.

Things change. Just because our lives aren’t the same as they used to be doesn’t mean they aren’t good, they’re just different. And yes, sometimes it can be really hard and incredibly sad. So sometimes I try instead to focus on gratitude and reach out to those I care about. That’s when I start to realize that I am truly blessed indeed and have many reasons to celebrate. That the ghosts of Christmas past and the people I have lost don’t have to haunt me. Instead they can be happy memories to decorate the halls of my heart and keep me in joyful company for years to come.

God bless us, everyone. 

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Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Certified Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist for 

Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service,                                            Serving families in the greater Richmond area since 1870

6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
(804) 275-7828

Christmas Without You

“I’ll have a Blue Christmas without you, I’ll be so blue just thinking about you.

Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree, won’t be the same dear if you’re not here with me.

And when those blue snowflakes start fallin’, that’s when those blue memories start callin’.

You’ll be doin’ all right, with your Christmas of white, but I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas.”                (Lyrics to “Blue Christmas”, sung by Elvis Presley)

The holidays can be hard after the loss of someone close. Nothing feels the same. The lights have lost their twinkle, the night seems even more dark and cold. So what can someone do if they find ourselves in that situation? What are some ways to cope or get through the extra emotion of the holiday season? Here are some insights from a few individuals who have experienced the death of a loved one and were gracious enough to share their thoughts about grief and the holidays.

More than one person shared that they find it comforting to engage in old traditions. It brings back warm memories of time spent together. Others find new ways to spend the holidays. However, if they decide “do” the holidays there is no one right way to cope with the change in the season. What matters most is finding a way to honor lost loved ones in a way that works for those involved, while also making the holidays special.

E.W. wrote: “The first Christmas after my father passed I couldn’t stand the idea of his chair in the family room being empty. I offered to bring my mom a small Christmas tree to put up next to his chair. We called it the ‘dad tree’ and decorated it with things that reminded us of him – lots of plaid and ornaments we had bought for him over the years. It helped a lot and made that empty chair not seem so empty. So that it was low stress as possible for my mom we took care of everything including watering it, decorating it, and taking it down at the end of Christmas.”

Others may choose not to celebrate at all. Erin, a mother who experienced the loss of her son Kreed, shared that one of the things she needed from others was “understanding.” Not only understanding as to why they would not want to celebrate the holidays after such a great loss, but also understanding of the fact that two years later they are still sad. As she wrote, “We still grieve as if it happened yesterday.”

If they do decide to celebrate, but in different or scaled-back fashion, she also hopes that others will respect that, because “We are celebrating in our way and a way we want to.”

However, if someone chooses to not participate in the holidays that does not mean you should ignore them or stop inviting them to events. They may choose to come, but even just receiving the invitation can be comforting. It’s nice to know you are not forgotten. So by all means still invite those who are grieving, let them know you care, and let them decide whether or not they want to attend. Also, it helps if you are understanding if your potential guests say yes but then cancel at the last minute. Sometimes they really do want to come but then at the last minute it can become too hard.

Kimberly’s family lost two beloved members within six months. The holidays were hard that year, but they made it a priority to gather their family together. They prayed, spent time with each other, and talked about their loved ones. She wrote, “My mom really wanted everyone together. It was hard on her but she was glad we did it, and so was everyone else. I guess the tip is to take people where they are at and respect their wishes.”

Remembering those who have passed is so important. It can help a grieving person to know that their loved one is remembered by others. Erin wrote that she hopes others will, “remember our boy at these times. It was his favorite time of year. Talking about him helps us, not hurts us. By not saying his name or his memories, it’s like he was erased. We love talking about him and remembering his antics this time of year.”

Another individual, Donna, wrote that her uncle died from Leukemia on Christmas Day at the young age of 36. He was her mother’s only brother among 5 siblings. She observed, “Christmas was hard for my mom and her family after that. But every year, my mom pulled it together to give her own 5 kids a happy holiday. And we never stopped talking about my uncle, and all the wonderful memories we have of him. We lost him in 1973, and he is still a big part of our family history because we keep the memory of this wonderful, loving man alive. My advice would be, don’t ever stop remembering the ones we lose, and treat each memory as a gift, for which we can always be grateful.”

Each memory truly is a gift. While all our families are different, with different situations, what’s similar is the love. Honoring and remembering that love is crucial, and helps us find strength and comfort. This holiday season may you be able to hold tight to your memories, so that they may they fill your heart and your days with light.

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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

I Want You to Say Their Name, Even if it Makes Me Cry

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During a recent conversation with a friend I shared a fond memory of her teenage son who passed away several months ago. There was a catch in her throat as she responded, and for a moment I regretted my words and wondered if I had said the wrong thing.

Later, during a quiet moment, I had the opportunity to ask her about it. I felt comfortable doing so because she had been open about her journey so far. She was gracious enough to give me the space to ask some personal and even painful questions. The truth is, though, that after you lose a child there isn’t much that is not painful. She told me that it was okay that I mentioned her son, and even okay that it made her cry. Actually, she continued, it was good that I said his name and it always makes her happy to know that he is remembered.

She told me that when people say his name she knows that he is remembered, and she feels like it honors his life and his memory. That is comforting to her, even if she might cry. It still isn’t easy to hear his name spoken sometimes, but she never wants to stop hearing it.

I personally have never experienced the loss of a child. Friends of mine have, and I cannot even begin to fathom the depth of their pain. I can, however, listen to them as they share their thoughts and experiences. I can also be there for them when they don’t feel like talking, even if it is by giving them space and letting them know that I am nearby and available should they ever need me.

Two of my friends in particular have been gracious enough share some of their journey with us. I continue to grieve with them for their losses as I stand in awe and appreciation of their strength and courage, honesty and vulnerability.  The rest of these words will be written from their perspective. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Continue reading

My Grandfather’s Hands

My grandfather’s hands played a prominent role in my childhood. His hands were strong, and I spent many bright afternoons outside watching him chop wood for the fireplace. His hands were busy, tending to his vegetable and flower garden or adding a column of numbers for his accounting work. His hands were steady as he guided our entire family and cared for my grandmother.

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When I was a young girl he took me with him to the pool. I had not yet mastered the art of swimming and ventured into waters that were too deep for my tiny frame. I suddenly found myself floundering under water, and can still vividly recall the panic I felt as well as the sight of the bubbles swirling around me.  It seemed to last an eternity. Then suddenly I felt myself being lifted out of the water by a pair of reassuring hands. My grandfather had saved me, just as I knew he would.

I continued to rely on those hands into adulthood. My grandfather and his caring hands were always there when you needed him, all you had to do was ask. As time passed his hands began to show their age, and it frustrated him that he could no longer do as much to care for my grandmother and the rest of our family. We reassured him that our love for him was not dependent upon his usefulness, and we knew that the time had come for our family to take care of him. We were grateful for the opportunity to repay in even a small way the love that he had shown us for us for so many years. So care for him we did.

As my grandfather’s time on this earth drew to a close his health began to fail him, and he entered the hospital due to difficulty breathing. He had made it very clear that under no circumstances was he to be intubated, so he utilized an oxygen mask to breathe. Every breath was a struggle, but my grandfather faced his final moments with strength and dignity and on his own terms. As I sat beside him in that hospital room I wished with all my might that there was something I could do to ease his suffering, but the best I could do was hold his hand and love him. And so I did.

I held his hand all night, sleeping next to his hospital bed, hoping that somehow my love and strength could pass through me into him. There were moments that were more of a struggle, and he felt like he was drowning trying to breathe. So just like he had reached down into the swirling waters and saved me that day when I was so small, I tried to save him. I would turn up his oxygen, whisper to him that he was not alone, and squeeze his hand tight.

Those precious, precious hands. Hands that had guided me through so many of life’s milestones. It was a privilege to hold his hand as he neared the end of his journey. I just hope that he found my hands even half as much of a help and comfort and his were to me.

I’m still holding onto those hands in my heart.

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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

Death, Anger, and Forgiveness

Life is complicated. Death is complicated. Living after the death of someone you love is incredibly complicated. Even if there was time to “prepare,” a person can still find themselves overwhelmed and confused by all the complex emotions they experience. Quite often, however, death itself comes as a surprise. When that happens your grief may be compounded by the fact that you had unfinished business with the person who has passed. The people that we love are the people that have the power to hurt us the most. You may even find yourself actually angry with them for what they did or did not do, and never had a chance for resolution. It can be a very strange tension to simultaneously feel such strong grief and also unresolved anger.

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A longtime friend with whom you had a falling out because they hurt you deeply. A sibling that you loved but also fought with constantly. A family member that was so toxic that you had to protect yourself from them and limit contact. A parent that was never the parent you wanted or needed them to be. Someone who wronged you repeatedly but never told you, “I’m sorry.” With each of these situations there comes an additional layer of emotion that complicates our grief process. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t your fault. People are human and flawed and sometimes hurt us

So what do we do when we lose someone in such a situation? How do we manage our conflicting emotions? The answer is not an easy one, but the first step is that you indeed try and work through them. Ignoring and burying negative feelings does not make them go away, but can actually intensify them. Feelings will come out one way or another, and recovery becomes more complicated by delaying the process.

One of the ways that you can cope with your feelings is to talk about them. It is okay to acknowledge that you are angry. Being angry at someone who has died does not make you a bad person. However it is also important to be cautious with the way you discuss those emotions, and with whom. Be sensitive to the fact that others may also be grieving, and may be experiencing different emotions than you are. When the loss is new they may not be in a place to understand your anger and hurt. Instead it may help in such a situation to talk to someone outside the situation. Writing a letter to them to vent your feelings and process your thoughts can also help. .

To find closure you may need to go to the memorial service or burial. Conversely, you may need to skip the proceedings and observe in your own way. If you do attend then that is likely not the appropriate time to talk about your conflict with the deceased. Doing so could upset those in attendance and takes the focus away from the task at hand. A eulogy is also not the appropriate place to discuss grievances and air dirty laundry, but instead should be a comfort. You don’t have to lie, but there are diplomatic ways of stating truths or skirting sensitive issues.

As we continue through the grieving process be patient with yourself. It takes time to work through complicated feelings. There is also no one way to feel. You may find you are not sad. You may find you are sad for what you never had. Whatever emotion you experience is valid.

The most important thing to do when we experience conflict and loss is practice forgiveness. You may think they don’t deserve it, but the forgiveness isn’t actually for them. It’s for you, to help release the weight that you carry. Bitterness and resentment can weigh us down, and binds us to that which we hate. We are the ones that are harmed by not releasing anger, not them. Letting go of those feelings frees us to experience healing. Of course this can also take time, and a lot of practice.

Once we acknowledge and release our hurt and anger it can help to focus on the positive, if there was any. Sometimes regret can obscure our vision of our blessings. Thinking about the good times can help you receive some comfort. Also, look at all the love you still have around you and soak it in.

None of these suggestions are easy, and they all take time and effort. What matters is that your are intentional about working through your feelings. If you do that I hope that one day you find that you have begun, at least a little bit, to heal.

Let us forgive each other – only then will we live in peace.” ~Leo Tolstoy

 

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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

More Questions Than Answers

                “More Questions Than Answers” 

              Funny the way it is, if you think about it                                                       Somebody’s going hungry and someone else is eating out                                                            Funny the way it is, not right or wrong                                                             Somebody’s broken heart becomes your favorite song

             Funny the way it is, if you think about it                                                                  One kid walks ten miles to school, another’s dropping out                                                             Funny the way it is, not right or wrong                                                                     On a soldier’s last breath, his baby’s being born                                                                                                                                    – Dave Matthews

As a Celebrant at Morrissett, I sit down with families in need of putting together a memorial service. I also engage with grieving families after the service as the Director of Aftercare. There are questions that often haunt grief-stricken minds. Many of those same questions have occupied my thoughts for years. Those questions usually begin with, “Why is it that…?” Dave Matthews poses the same thought as a statement, “Funny the way it is…”. I have found over the years that I have few answers for myself, or those who are so deeply grieving. Dave Matthews uses the word “funny”, not as “Ha-ha funny”, but, “How strange is that funny?”. His choice of words is a reminder of just how oddly cruel and unfair life can be. Whenever I go back to the question, “Why is it that…?”, my question always begins with the person to whom I am asking, “God…Why is it that…?” I discovered long ago that I will never solve that mystery. Yet, I still ask. We all ask, because broken hearts need to ask.

Not long ago I served as a pastor/celebrant for a twenty-five-year old young woman who hit a deer one night, disabling her car in the middle of the highway. A young couple saw her and stopped to help. Another car happened upon the accident scene. Swerving to miss her disabled car, she and the couple were struck by the car and killed. Four people died that night. The young woman was carrying her unborn child.                 “God…Why is it that…?”

I sat one morning with a grieving mother, her eyes revealing she was still in shock. The stormy night before her six-year-old boy was crushed while asleep when an uprooted tree came crashing through his bedroom roof. “God…Why is it that…?”

In the casket lies a man who died from lung cancer. He never smoked a day in his life, but he grew up in a home of chain smokers taking in fatal second-hand smoke.    “Funny the way it is…”.

The only answer I can come up with is, “Because it just is. It’s the agony and the ecstasy of life; the freakish nature of nature, both human and non-human.” There is one thing of which I am absolutely convinced; that tragic, seemingly senseless death is not God’s punishment or curse. We humans crave control. We live in a culture addicted to attaching blame; hooked on the fast-food mentality of quick and convenient answers. The reality is that there are always more questions than answers. Always. “Funny the way it is…”.

The victorious part of the grieving process is living and loving with those unanswered questions. It’s being able to walk through that dark tunnel toward the light never knowing the answer to the question, “Why?” That’s why I highly recommend support groups. These communities of hurting hearts facilitate emotional release and encouragement in a safe place where we can laugh, cry or just stare out into space all in the same meeting. And, though we don’t have all the answers, we begin to discover that we can live productively in this “new normal” of more questions than answers.

We may feel that life never really gets better – just different.

And that’s O.K. “Funny the way it is…”. 

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

How to BE Angry

“How to BE Angry”

What do we do with anger? The issue isn’t if we will get angry, because, if you’re human you will get angry. The question is, “What do we do with the anger inside us?” To be clear; anger is a normal human emotion. Anger is not right or wrong. It is a component of our human wiring. Feeling angry is not sinful. As a former pastor, I have heard so many people tell me that they needed to ask for God’s forgiveness because they felt angry. They were taught that they must never feel angry. That would be like telling someone they should never feel sad. In fact, if we are not angry over a senseless loss of life, or injustice, we need to ask ourselves why.

When it comes to anger, it’s a matter of how we process it.

We need to remember that anger is one of the stages of grief. We often grieve in misunderstood anger. We might not even know why we’re angry. We might be angry just because no one seems to understand our grief. Let’s face it, people can say some incredibly ignorant things to grief-stricken people. Number one on my “Don’t Say That” list is, “It was God’s will.” I cringe when I hear someone say that. I mean, how can you argue with God? Number two is saying to a mother who has lost a baby, “You’re young, you can have another baby”; as if she can just replace that one of the litter with another one! Number three is, “God needed another angel in heaven”. Seriously? First off, contrary to cartoons and movies, we don’t become angels when we die! Angels are God created unique heavenly beings of their own, not transformed humans. Second, it doesn’t bring comfort to imply that a selfish God took something away from them. Believe me, sometimes it’s better to simply give a compassionate hug and say nothing.

So, in our grief, is it really O.K to be angry? God says, “Yes”, It’s normal to be angry, but BE sure to…” 

BE PROMPT…

In other words, don’t repress it. Delayed anger becomes volatile. The longer it’s pushed down, the more destructive it is when it comes out. Anger was never intended to last long! Long-lasting anger becomes an embedded inner struggle that will color everything we do. The insidious nature of unresolved anger is that a pattern of angry behavior is easily established. It’s commonly called being “hot tempered”.

BE SLOW…

Maybe there really is a reason why God gave us only one mouth and two ears! The root of a “quick temper” is insecurity. Secure people are willing to listen; able to think it through and respond rather than react. God is simply telling us to avoid developing a habitual “short fuse”; because of unresolved anger.

BE HONEST…

We’ve all heard it before, “Are you upset?” “No, I’m not upset.” But you know you’d better steer clear of them for a while! We need to need to admit it to ourselves. It is emotionally healthy to say to someone, “I am really angry right now.” Depression is defined as “Anger turned inward”. There are people we encounter everyday who have refused to confront their anger for years and are physically and emotionally sick.

BE CAREFUL 

Express anger respectfully. Don’t vent! Be aware of your anger and do not react while angry. We need to consider that a verbal explosion can be as damaging as a punch with the fist. Whatever you do don’t send that text message or that emotionally charged e-mail while still angry. And please – don’t resolve it publicly on Facebook or Twitter.

BE WISE…

Remember that anger, like sadness, is a normal human emotion. However, anger serves as a warning light for the human mind. It’s our inner indicator that we are vulnerable to regrettable behavior. The strange thing is that the anger warning sign is different for each person I knew a guy in college who would smile right before he would throw a devastating punch! 

BE GRACIOUS…

The best way to process anger peacefully is through dispensing grace. It’s realizing that casting blame in anger doesn’t resolve anything. Anger can be the result of deep feelings of regret. In our grief, we are often desperate for answers that might never come. The truth is, the reason we are so angry is because we are grieving over loss; loss of a loved one, loss of time, loss of health; even the loss of what could have been. Sometimes we are even angry with the one who died. By the way – it’s OK to be angry at God. He’s a big God and he can take it.

Remember that anger is a normal part of the grieving process. And if you feel stuck, reach out to a pastor or counsellor to help you work through your grief.

 

Greg Webber                                           

Director, Community Care/Aftercare

Certified Celebrant

Morrissett Funeral & Cremation Service

The Death of a Parent

When we are children our parents care for us. Eventually many people find themselves in a position of caring for ailing parents and eventually losing them. Several individuals have shared their thoughts and feelings following such an experience.

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It is a bittersweet thing to find to care for an ailing parent after an entire lifetime of being cared for by them. “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Seeing my mom lose the love of her life was (also) very hard.”

An individual may find themselves feeling like they are a child again, yet faced with some very complicated tasks. Others find that they feel like an adult for the first time. One wrote that, years later, “I still find myself a grieving my father in a way that I never expected. It comes at me unexpectedly sometimes inconveniently and must always be addressed even if I don’t want to. Another thing that I have realized since my father passed is that I never felt old until he died. Now it seems as though my own mortality weighs on me in a way it never did before.”

An older teen shared what it was like to lose her father, as well as her concern for her mother and younger siblings. She said that the hardest part was, “…watching your other parent hurt and not being able to help them. Also not being able to explain to younger siblings who don’t understand that they aren’t coming back. People also end up stop asking how you’re doing about two months after and then you have to deal with the feelings by yourself because you don’t want your feelings to be a burden and make someone else sad.”

Some also felt that they were not given the opportunity to grieve. This could be because of complicated family dynamics, or because they had to be strong for others. Sometimes the logistics and planning necessary was so overwhelming that it kept them from being able to stop and feel any emotions or process their thoughts.

More than one person shared that they were overwhelmed by the helplessness, frustration, sadness, and even anger they felt at watching their parents struggle with illness. They questioned choices made by doctors and caregivers. Following the death of their parent many struggled with guilt and wondered if more could have been done.

Facing the reality of the loss and even future holidays can also be hard. As one person wrote, “The hardest for me has been that I won’t ever hear my dad’s voice, knowing I won’t buy another Father’s Day, birthday or Christmas gift.”

Death is difficult to face whether it occurs suddenly or after a prolonged period of illness. When it is sudden many experience feelings of regret or unfinished business and wish they had more time to do or say certain things. Yet even when we have time to say goodbye to someone and they have time to put their affairs in order it still feels like a surprise when we finally lose them. One person explained it as, “Denial on my part, I suppose.”

There may be a sense of relief because a parent is no longer suffering, even in the midst of grief, as heartrendingly described by one person, “Losing my mom was like taking a bullet through my soul. But still not as hard as watching her suffer. I talk to her all the time.”

Some stated that they lost their sense of grounded-ness and connection following such an intense loss. When the parental relationship was less than ideal, however, there may be complicated emotions over what never was. As one wrote, “My mother was a wonderful person, and my best friend, and I miss her. I’ve seen some people suffer in a different way than me, though, when the parent was abusive or difficult. These adult kids never get what they were looking for all their lives from that parent, and then one day they have to come to terms with the fact that they never will.”

One person shared that they felt both gratitude and grief, even after much time had passed. “There is gratefulness for the life he lived and the amazing husband, father, and grandfather he was. And there is sorrow because my children… didn’t get nearly enough time to know this incredible man. There is fear that they won’t remember him or the happier moments… So now, we adjust. We pick up the pieces and look at them and see what the new picture looks like when they all get glued together.”

Another wrote that she had a delayed reaction to her father’s death but that she still find comfort in memories and in unexpected events that bring him to mind seem to be a sign. She said, “We miss him every day and see him everywhere. He let’s us know when he is around… and things I have never remembered I remember now at just the right moment.”

Just as each person’s relationship with their parents is unique, so are our experiences with grief. In closing, the words of this beautiful and heartfelt poem seemed a fitting tribute to the love between a parent and child. They were written by Beverly Bollman following the passing of her mother. It is called, “When Jesus Took Our Mother Home.”

Our mothers love was strong and fierce.
She loved her children with all her heart.

She fought to stay with us
But Jesus had other plans.

She fought her battle hard
She didn’t want to leave us.

As she made her journey
The veil between heaven and earth lifted

Jesus was making a place for her
As her time was drawing near.

We held her hand and kissed her head
Sending our love with her on her journey.

As peace and comfort rested upon her
Her journey was complete

What a joyous time in heaven
When Jesus took our mother Home

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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

Letters to Mr. Goss

This is the story of how scores of students rallied in support of one of their former High School teachers because they wanted to show him just how much they appreciated the positive influence he had on their lives. Turns out it was just in time.

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During my Senior year of High School I had the privilege of being in Mr. Goss’s English class. He was one of those amazing teachers that got students excited about learning and about life, despite his occasionally crusty exterior. We appreciated his energy and passion and his unique view of the world. We loved the fact that he could teach with equal levels of earnestness the symbolism of not only Dante’s Inferno but also Dr. Seuss. In his class we examined the literary devices used in the book of Job, and had a spirited debate on how to define “Quality” after reading the book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” He encouraged us to think deeply and think differently, and despite his tendency to crack some truly corny jokes he was a gifted storyteller.

Mr. Goss left a lasting positive impression on me, despite the fact that my constant disorganization frustrated him. When I first started trying to write again, almost twenty years later, he was on my mind a lot. I wanted to reach out to him to say thank you and tell him that he had a huge influence on my writing style and self-confidence. Around that time a number of former classmates began to reconnect on social media and the name Mr. Goss came up often. He was described as, “My favorite teacher,” “The best thing to happen to English,” “My inspiration for becoming a writer/teacher,” and “The only person I felt I could talk to.” Many students stated that he made a huge difference in their lives, and that they still remembered the things he taught them. One student wrote, “He was just one of the coolest teachers I think I’ve ever known. Even when it wasn’t about English or Literature, he was teaching about so many things.” Another said, “We LOVED Mr. Goss!! Who else could discuss how important it is to have your glass of milk so cold it almost hurts? Or read Dr. Seuss’ ‘Are You My Mother?’ to you and put it on your senior English exam?”

All those kind words were said on social media, however. I wondered if Mr. Goss himself knew how important he was to all of us. I had also heard whispers that our former teacher may be ill. I wasn’t sure just HOW ill, nor was I sure if that information was supposed to be public knowledge. It increased the urgency of my desire to contact him, but I did not wish to invade his privacy. I waited a while, but the feeling of urgency and desperation kept growing inside me. What if he was REALLY sick? I was sure that those students who sang his praises on the internet would be devastated to learn that they could no longer tell the man himself what he meant to them. I decided that it would be an utter tragedy for Mr. Goss to die without the possibility of knowing how many students spoke so highly of him; without knowing that he had made such a difference. In general I think everyone deserves the chance to know that their efforts did indeed matter to someone. Everyone deserves to know that they had a positive impact on the world and helped make it a better place, yet far too often we stay silent and don’t speak up and tell people what they mean to us. I didn’t want that to happen in this case.

As Valentine’s Day approached I decided it was a good time to reach out to someone in an act of caring and that I should not wait any longer. I used an old-fashioned thing called the Phone Book and looked up the number for a “Raymond Goss.” I called it, hoping I had the right person. His wife answered and I introduced myself, saying that I was a former student who simply wished to say thank you. Her response was that he was very sick and resting. She went on to explain that he had cancer and even though they were trying to remain optimistic and he had been beating the odds his prognosis was not good.

Her confirmation of his illness gave me the opportunity for which I had been waiting. I frantically began to pray silently while trying to quell the rising emotion in my voice. With a catch in my throat I asked her for permission to share information about Mr. Goss’s situation, and explained that there were many students who would like to show their appreciation for their former teacher. I knew those students would be upset if they did not have a chance to do so. She agreed and gave me their mailing address, admitting that they did not go on the internet much and preferred to not get flooded with phone calls. She then allowed me to speak with her husband, gently reminding me that his strength was limited.

I wish I had a recording of that all too brief conversation. I was thrilled to discover that, even after almost 20 years, Mr. Goss remembered me. He was tired so I did most of the talking, and we discussed my writings and life experiences. I reminded him that when I was in High School, “I didn’t always do my best writing, but when I did…”, and he cut me off, stating simply, “It was REALLY GOOD!”

I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. He, who had read countless papers from countless students, remembered my writing. I thanked him for believing in me, and for being one of the first people to make me feel like a good writer. I also read to him some of the kind things that other students had written about him as they reminisced about High School, and he seemed surprised but happy. I said, “Hopefully you will be receiving letters from these students soon, so they can tell you themselves how much you mean to all of us!”

We then talked briefly about his illness, and he shared that he was doing his best to fight. “I am looking forward to the spring,” was one of the last things he said to me.

That day I made a post on social media about Mr. Goss’s illness and gave his address (again, with permission), asking former students to please consider sending him notes of encouragement. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Even though at the time we were still not sure just how sick he was, somehow the urgency of the request was understood. One person responded, “Mr. Goss was the most influential person, teacher, advice-giver, and friend at a time in my life when I needed someone the most. I am truly heartbroken that he is apparently so ill and I wish I would have known before now.” The information was shared repeatedly, former students rushed to their mailboxes, and by Valentine’s Day the cards began to arrive. Hundreds of them. So many students from so many years, several DECADES worth of students, wanted to reach out to the man they admired to say “thank you.” They strove to encourage him as he continued to fight for life. Many sent pictures, or whole albums of pictures, and even small gifts. His family later shared that he looked forward to the moment when he could ask his wife to check the daily mail, and that “Although his physical strength had left him, his mental strength was just as strong as ever and he LOVED reading the letters each day.” They said that the look of joy on his face as he opened the stack of mail, hearing stories from countless students that he taught over the years, brought happiness and comfort to all of them.

Mr. Goss did not get to see the spring. He died on March 1, 2010. Cards continued to arrive even after his death. A family member later wrote, “I can’t tell you how many letters he received, but I can tell you that I read letters all morning and was still unable to read through the complete stack.” My heart is warmed when I think of the outpouring of love for this great man, and I realize that what was intended as a simple “thank you” became so much more. It was an encouragement during his battle with illness, and a comfort during his final days. The family shared that the countless pieces of correspondence also provided solace for all of them during a sad and painful time, and “a light” in the midst of darkness. Those same letters now also serve as a tangible, lasting reminder for them of the legacy that Mr. Goss has left behind. His family will be able to read them and proudly remember the man that they love. Eight years later one of his grandsons actually wrote an homage to his grandfather in his Senior English portfolio and used the letters in his assignment.

All because a group of students cared enough to respond to their former teacher in his hour of need. It is incredible that such a kind man was able to receive words of thanks and encouragement from so many students before he passed away. The response was overwhelmingly beautiful.

I think of Mr. Goss every spring and it makes me wonder, who else in my life do I need to thank? So many people go through this life not knowing that they made a difference, and not knowing that they changed this world for good. It shouldn’t take an illness or crisis to spur us to reach out to someone in gratitude and support.

Mr. Goss was able to read and hear the words of people that cared about him before his time on this earth was ended. Yet far too often as I help officiate funerals I hear from bereaved individuals who voice regrets about the things they did not say while they had the chance. People are praised and celebrated after their death, yet we seem to forget to share positive affirmation with the people we care about while they are still with us.

Say the words while you have the chance. Encourage someone. Thank someone. Tell them you love and appreciate them. If someone had a positive influence on your life then tell them. Find a way to give something back to a person who deserves it. Even a simple “I appreciate you” or a helping hand in time of need could mean the world to someone. They may need you now more than you realize, and you never know when it might be too late.

This story is shared with the permission of the family of Raymond Goss.

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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

Forgiving the Dead

“Forgiving the Dead” 

Much has been written over the years about forgiveness. Pulpits have resounded with the biblical premise of forgiving our enemies. Self help books still occupy shelves at Barnes & Noble. Most of these resources speak of the spiritually and emotionally healthy aspect of forgiving someone who has been the source of pain in our lives; that the dispensation and acceptance of forgiveness can be the key to restoring the relationship. But, how do we forgive someone we will never see again? How are we to forgive a person for dying; especially when the death has been the result of a needless risk, self-absorbed poor judgement or addiction?

The common thread of forgiving the dead as well as the living is that we have been hurt. We seldom want to face the indignation or even outright anger we feel toward the dearly departed. We have been taught somewhere along the way that being angry with the decedent is paramount to sacrilege or bad moogambo! I have encountered wives who wrestle with anger at their husbands who ignored the doctor’s orders to treat their diabetes or whose refusal to diet and exercise resulted in a fatal heart attack. I have all too often counseled those who have lost children and spouses by drug overdose.

I vividly remember being startled awake by a two-thirty a.m. phone call. The voice on the other end jolted me awake, “Mr. Webber, I am sorry to inform you that your brother Philip has been killed in a traffic accident.” My initial response was to pound the pillow with my fist. I was angry at Phil because I knew what led to this tragedy. It was like I knew it was only a matter of time. And I was angry at Phil because he didn’t care enough about us to live!  But forgiveness didn’t come immediately. I want to share what I discovered in this journey.

Why is Forgiveness Necessary?  [Let me give you three practical reasons.]

First: Resentment is Counter-productive

Withholding forgiveness is a form of control that produces bitterness and resentfulness. Resentment is self-inflicted pain and, at best, an irrational waste of energy. When we’ve been hurt, resentment and bitterness will surface eventually. Resentment is committing a slow, emotional suicide.  

Second: I Have Been Forgiven

I choose to forgive because God beat me to it…many times. But, other people have also forgiven me. It seems only fair that I forgive. God doesn’t keep a score card on my life failures and I am so glad that other people don’t keep a running score of my life failures either. I have come to see it this way, I’ll never have to forgive somebody else as much as God has already forgiven me! The awareness of this truth makes it easier for me to dispense forgiveness.

 

Third: Forgiveness is a Process

Forgiveness is a great concept until I must do it. Some things are easy to forgive. You can forgive with relative ease your neighbor whose dog comes over and soils your lawn. You’ve scheduled a meeting with someone and they’re late or they don’t show – forgiven. But what happens when somebody lies to you or about you… that’s a different ball game! The other aspect of forgiveness is the level of intimacy that’s involved. The closer we are to a person, the greater the emotional intensity. But the need to forgive is still there.

So, How Do I Forgive?

I really wish I could give you a magic wand, works every time formula. Relationships are complicated and so is the process of forgiveness. I’ll share what I have learned, at times, the hard way.

Admit My Hurt 

I’ve got to be honest with me! I can’t get over my hurt until I admit it.  As I said previously, sometimes we don’t like to do that because the person who hurt us is dead. We tend to repress it or ignore it with, “I don’t want to deal with it.”  But that doesn’t work because the unresolved pain tends to emerge in some other form of compulsion. I suggest writing the deceased a letter or visiting their grave site and literally talk to them. It is important to call them by name.

Release Them

This is the essence of forgiveness; to release the offender. It means that we must let them go and stop holding on to the hurt by offering forgiveness. Think of it this way: holding on to resentment gives that person power over me!

Embrace the Truth That “It’s Not About Me”.

This issue here is the inability of the deceased to acknowledge acceptance of our forgiveness. The reality is we don’t need the other person’s response. We can choose to forgive…period. What ultimately helped me move forward in grieving the loss of my brother was the realization that he had done nothing that required my forgiveness. This was all about me; my feelings; my hurt; my resentment of being awakened in the middle of the night; my having to tell the rest of the family. I had to look in the mirror and face a self-centered person who simply could not control events. I came to terms with the truth that I was using forgiveness against someone instead of with them. Forgiveness in the proper context is a gift of God for the living and the dead.

 

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