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The Family Mess

There are two events that bring families together – weddings and funerals. Both reveal much about the dysfunctional family. Weddings can produce a temporary armistice on the battleground of an eclectic gaggle of parents, ex-spouses, in-laws and “out-laws”,aunts and uncles, as well as that cousin no one wants to talk about. Civility reigns at for least a few hours into the reception when alcohol induced inhibition kicks in.

The funeral can also reveal family dysfunction. Clergy and funeral directors often find themselves caught in the family-feud crossfire. Much like a wedding, grieving families often bring elements of tension, resentment and bitterness into the arrangement meeting. Some families express embarrassment and struggle to know just what to say about the deceased. As a pastor and celebrant, I have faced the challenge of preparing a service with some interesting dynamics. A friend of one family said that it was best to take the deceased in limited doses. On one occasion, I prepared a service for a man whose wide reputation as a bigoted bully preceded him – “the elephant in the room”. A church member once told me that her husband would have to pay people to be his pallbearers. I sat with another family to plan the service and the tension engulfed the room like a thick cloud. In each case, the challenge was to find a way to celebrate a life few people enjoyed being around; to balance truth and compassion. I learned early on that even though the deceased was as mean as a rattlesnake, the funeral service is not the place to point that out. Here are some of the things I shared as a celebrant about one particularly controversial life.

I set the tone saying that the deceased was a complex man; that he was one of a kind. Even as I uttered those “funeral correct”words, the left side of my brain was saying,“That’s a polite way of saying that just about everybody disliked this jerk.” I pointed to the truth that, like all of us, he had many sides to his personality. Some people are triangles and some are rectangles. But this guy was an octagon! And your take on him depended on which side you of the octagon you encountered. He was a “preferred dish”, as a family friend delicately put it. He could be down-right ornery and lovingly compassionate. It was his way or no way, but he tenderly sacrificed so much for his invalid wife.He saw things as black or white yet, was artistically gifted – A NASCAR guy who liked classical music – a career military officer who enjoyed interior decorating.Go figure!

Families are complex. Relationships are messy. There are moments when it’s as if a spotlight shines on just one side of our multi-sided lives. I’ve felt the heat from that spotlight when I have behaved in surprising ways that brought me embarrassment.I have felt exposed by the light when acting like an idiot. And it would be easy for someone to judge who I am by one or two illuminated sides of my rectangular life. But I am so glad that my entire life is not summed up by those regrettable side moments. The truth is, some people make it so easy to dislike them from all sides.

My dad was one of those people. His behavior was embarrassing to the family. In the end, my dad and I rebuilt the bridge to each other. And that began when I saw my older brother take the first step. It set the example for other family members as well. Other bridges were rebuilt, and relationships restored. Now, that isn’t to say that our relationship with our dad was warm and fuzzy, but it was just workable. Thirty years after his death, I can still smile when I tell people that my dad was a real “Weird-mobile”. Complex people can drive us crazy, test our limits and push the boundaries of love. But, at the end of a life, we do the right thing. We bring dignity to their lives with gestures of respect.

I concluded that uncomfortable funeral service reminding everyone that honoring the departed is a sacred act. It is sacred,because every life is sacred and has value to someone.

Families tasked with “making proper arrangements” can embrace the opportunity to build bridges, experience forgiveness and embrace reconciliation. It simply takes one person to make the first move to initiate a domino effect of something beyond mere tolerance.  

When the service ended, I was concerned that the family might have been offended by what I had shared, but quite the contrary. I was approached by several family and friends of the deceased who thanked me for “saying what needed to be said with compassion.” Lesson learned. In celebrating a life, don’t portray the person as someone they were not. That would be not only disingenuous but insulting. Honesty with compassion helps bring closure. It can bring détente to dysfunctional families and help them understand their common ground of the wearying effects of living with a complex “octagon”.The one whom they buried or cremated was the ground zero of their family mess. They can now choose to build new bridges with each other of understanding, empathy and care.

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Greg Webber has served as pastor of churches in Kentucky, Michigan and Virginia. He currently serves as The Director of Aftercare, Certified Celebrant and Trained Survivor of Suicide Support Group Facilitatorfor Morrissett Funeral & Cremation Service. Contact him at greg@morrissett.com.

The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room

February 19, 2019

As a Pastor and Certified Celebrant, I have encountered many families plunged into a river of grief. Sitting with them,I feel the depth of their loss and pain. My purpose for being with them is two-fold: To bring some level of comfort and reassurance; to facilitate the family’s desire to paint a verbal portrait of the deceased, preparing me to celebrate their life story during the memorial service. The goal is to honor their loved one and help the family process their grief. I am privileged to be invited into their lives.

The years I have spent with grieving families have revealed this basic truth: Dysfunction IS the new normal! Every family is normal until you get to know them and has some level of dysfunction.It is amazing the way a funeral can unearth a deeply rooted family mess,exposing the “elephant in the room”.I have encountered family meetings where people did not speak to each other.The worst meetings are those stifled by tension filled silence, where dagger glances replace spoken communication.

On one occasion, a family member became so agitated over the choice of burial site that he abruptly stood up to leave and knocked a display item off the shelf, breaking as it hit the floor. The three other family members were in mutual agreement on a burial site. I had to gently remind the man that he could not make this all about him. When he left, the family apologized for him and thanked me for saying what needed to be said. When the elephant left the room, the atmosphere cleared, and much progress was made.

I want to highlight a family I served where the strained relationships were obvious to family and friends. With the guidance and permission of a family member, I concluded that the funeral service would provide an opportunity to tactfully speak to family dynamic. In doing so, I tenderly and lovingly reminded those in attendance of the need for healing by embracing these concepts:

Complicated Relationships

The deceased was a complex man. His imposing six feet six-inch frame carried a strong-willed military bearing. Though very gifted, he was insistent that his way was the right way. This rigidity obviously negatively impacted the family. There were many sides to this man. I used the analogy that all of us have multiple sides. Some of us are triangles, some are rectangles,and some are octagons. The deceased was indeed, an octagon. And one’s opinion of this man depended upon the angle you encountered. A friend of the family described him as “an acquired taste.”

Complicated Relationships… Plus…The Messiness of Grief…

Grief magnifies complicated relationships. This man was divorced and remarried and had become estranged from his children. So, when arrangements involved expenses and logistics, the latent anger and resentment inevitably surfaced. Even the issue of who should receive the Military Honors flag was contested. I have discovered that the pain of grief will bring unhealthy relationships to the forefront. Hurts are uncovered and scabs are scraped off. And all of this happened before the memorial service, which made the tension before and during the service palpable.

Complicated Relationships Plus The Messiness of Grief Equals…The Need for Healing!

The funeral or memorial service can be the catalyst for positive change. As the Director of Aftercare, I meet with people in need of working through their grief in the context of family dysfunction.

It has become clear to me that death really can bring life. Broken relationships can be repaired. Bridges can and should be rebuilt.

The sad truth is that the passing of someone with an octagonal personality can usher in peace. Families are often held captive by those who thrive on conflict and divisiveness. Their death can release the family from a toxic environment to experience a rebirth of mutual acceptance and respect. Sadly, while the family rediscovers harmony, the “elephant in the room” will require a large casket.

Greg Webber has served as Pastor to churches in Kentucky,Michigan and Virginia. He serves as The Director of Aftercare, Certified Celebrant and Trained Survivor of Suicide Support Group Facilitator for Morrissett Funeral & Cremation Service

Primal Scream

The human body is wired with an organic alarm system

Our emotional alarms are triggered by different stimulus. Go to a rock concert or a Redskins game and you’ll experience a wide variety of alarm sounds. Conversely, sit in an emergency room or attend a funeral service for a young, tragic death and the alarm sounds are very different. Cultural influences impact these alarms. Attend a Middle Eastern funeral and the alarm volume is much louder. Watch a kid rip open that one Christmas present he has been obsessing over and a delirious alarm will pierce the ears. Some alarms sound as a result of just being happy.

I have a video my daughter sent me of my (then) three-year old granddaughter, Ella. Her mom silently videoed her as she was standing on her little step stool playing in the kitchen sink.Ella was singing her song, making it up as she went along; a song about how to wash an apple! It was a spontaneous solo concert; a child happily and loudly living in the moment.

Then there is the shivering,gut pain sound of the deepest grief that reflects the image depicted in Edvard Munch’s painting, “The Scream”. It is a sound revealing a vocal primal scream. I want to highlight three:

Primal Anger Scream

It is as if the entire world is screaming. We’ve all witnessed the “terrible two” temper tantrum when the toddler cannot control events. It is the child’s primal anger scream. Adult temper tantrums are just as real and intense. It is important to remember that feelings of anger a natural part of the human DNA. As one of the grief elements, its purpose is to lead a person to wholeness. I refer to the stages of grief as “elements”of grief because of the misleading idea that we pass through those temporary “stages”never having to encounter them again. The reality is that grief is more often cyclical than linear. It is not uncommon for anger to be mixed in with other feelings and emotions throughout the grieving process that can last for years. Anger is the warning light on the human dashboard, alerting the brain and dispensing adrenaline through the body, which can cloud thinking and lead to confrontation.The most effective way to disarm anger is to recognize and own it. Releasing anger in isolation with a primal scream is preferable to screaming at someone else.

Primal Pain Scream

I vividly remember getting that dreaded pastoral call on a warm September Saturday night. The voice on the phone said that Doug, a member of my congregation, had been killed in a car accident. By the time I arrived at his home, an emotional crowd had gathered.When Doug’s twelve-year old son, Douggie was told the tragic news, he bolted and ran, until some neighbors found him and walked him home. I sat on the floor of the half bath with my arm around his shaking, sweating body as he sobbed so hard, that he vomited. But it was the sound he made in between the sobs that haunted me; a primal scream of the deepest paint his kid had ever felt. This is the front end of grief, expressing an emotional hurt so devastating that the best we can do is to cry out with painful sounds. Instead of words to express his devastation, Douggie released an unrecognizable moan that morphed into a high-pitched wailing. I said nothing. I just held him, unable to hold back my tears. His wailing finally gave way to a limp, exhausted body.

Primal Condemnation Scream

Anger and pain, when managed in their context, are indicators of the need for care and healing. But,condemnation is an altogether different animal.

The primal condemnation scream reveals the ugly truth that we have defaulted to the ugliness of our self-absorbed predisposition. Condemnation is fueled by an overdose of self, jettisoned by anger, fear and insecurity. The condemnation scream often reveals a pent-up resentment. It is as if the bullet has been sitting in the emotional chamber for quite some time.Condemnation is the self-destructive disorder of our world held captive by a collective scream that drowns out constructive dialogue, destroys thoughtful expression and fatally wounds human dignity. It is the mob psychology weapon of choice becoming more lethal with each accusation. It is the head-throbbing noise that divides communities and families. And those in the funeral profession can find themselves in the middle of an out of control primal condemnation “rager”.

Here’s the point: The ability to recognize those alarms going off in our heads before the sounds come out is important. It means that we understand and embrace our grief. Repressing grief is the worst thing we can do. Resisting healthy grieving can result in depression and physical illness. It can also result in damaged relationships.

Funeral Directors and pastors are there to hear the primal scream and help the-grief stricken walk through that dark tunnel toward the light.

Greg Webber

Director,Community Care/Aftercare, Certified Celebrant

Logo Vertical (green)

6500 Iron Bridge Rd.

N. Chesterfield, VA 23234

804-275-7828 (office)

804-873-0441 (cell)

greg@morrissett.com

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

The Most Important Person In the Room

There is a difference between power and authority; importance and influence. Being a funeral director is about authority and influence. The best example of this is found in a unique story in the bible, but I want to personalize it.                                                              When we lived in Michigan, we experienced a kind of hospitality ritual. When people came to your house for a meal or social event, they would take off their shoes upon entering the front door. The reason for this is because, during winter, snow and salt are carried on shoes and boots. This consideration carried over year-round. So, when entering someone’s house, you take off your shoes. Now imagine what would happen if at a dinner party in my home, I suddenly excuse myself from the table and begin cleaning off each pair of shoes or boots and placed them on each person’s feet. Think that would get their attention?                                                                                                Jesus is at the height of his popularity and is with his closest followers. He had celebrity status and a lot of people just wanted to be seen with him. They are all together for a religious ceremonial meal, and everything is going as expected. People have removed their first century Nike’s, sandals and flip-flops and are eating and chattering about what they have been binge-reading on Net-Leviticus when Jesus does something strange. He quietly stands up, goes over to a table and pours water into a large bowl and grabs a towel. He walks back to the table and does something only a house servant would do. He bends down and begins to wash people’s dusty, grimy feet!                                                                                                                                          In the moment of the greatest recognition of his authority, Jesus sees the bigger picture of needs for each person in the room. He literally lowers himself in a servant’s posture. At the pinnacle of his power, Jesus sheds his robe, the symbol of his authority as a rabbi, and shows what humility looks like. The Jesus-People are stunned and want to put Jesus back on their pedestal. To them, he has cheapened his reputation by abdicating his power. But Jesus has a message for them, “Everyone will want to be close to you, because you were the ones closest to me. You are going to be extraordinarily influential, but don’t forget this night.”                                                             The meal crowd struggled to grasp Jesus’ teachable moment. These were ordinary people like you and me who had to overcome preconception and fear. But, later on they would refuse to leverage power for their own sake and understood that they were simply given authority and influence to serve other people.                                                    Isn’t that really what being a funeral director is all about? It is perhaps the most unique and challenging of professions, which requires walking a very thin line between vocation and avocation. The director is compassionate, but always professional, compartmentalizing job and ministry. While we think of the word “ministry” as a church colloquialism, it means simply to meet someone’s physical, spiritual and emotional need. Those outside of the funeral industry are often taken by surprise when catching a glimpse of a funeral director’s work and ministry demands.                                                    When meeting with family members for a pre-need or at-need, the Funeral Director is the most authoritative and influential person in the room – but each family member is the most important person in the room. Directors walk them through cost figures and options because of legal requirements to do so. But even in this funeral business, they are looking to the director for more than raw information. They are looking for wisdom and compassion, truth and grace, comfort and strength, all wrapped in professionalism.       We recently facilitated a funeral service for a First Responder. I watched in amazement as our funeral director met the needs of all involved. With grief still fresh, the director met with the family and co-workers for seven hours. The next day, that same director worked with local First Responder units to plan and execute the large and complicated funeral service. During those hours of hurt and grief, family and coworkers had emotionally removed their shoes and were vulnerable. This compassionate director had symbolically washed their feet. The director was the most influential person in the room, but each of those mourners were the most important people in the room. I guess it could be said that it was a “Jesus thing”.

 Greg Webber                                                                                                         Director, Community Care/Aftercare                                                                       Certified Celebrant                                                                                   greg@morrissett.com

“Ch-Ch-Changes”

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“Ch-Ch-Chang-es”

                                                                     By Greg Webber                                                                                                                       Director of Aftercare/Community Care                                                                                                                  Certified Celebrant

In his song “Changes”, David Bowie told us to “…turn and face the strange”. The sixties Cultural Revolution was in full stride. It was an unsettling time of assassinations, Civil Rights marches, The Beatles, Joe Namath, Vietnam, Woodstock, the Generation Gap, Psychedelic, the Drug Culture, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, “The Graduate, The Smothers Brothers, Neil Armstrong, Kent State, Watergate and Gas Pump Lines. As a product of the sixties and seventies, I had to “turn and face the strange” on a regular basis. It was my faith and commitment to my church community that helped keep my head from exploding. A generation later www.com became a part of our lexicon. Another decade later words like Facebook and Twitter were added. Even more so than in the sixties and seventies, this techno-revolution has been a game changer. Now I would like to believe that I am older and wiser, but what can I say when phones and T.V.s are smarter than I am? “Turn and face the strange”! While serving as as a pastor, I had to “turn and face the strange” in the local church for more than twenty-five years. The days of denominational loyalty have dissipated. The traditional church institution is rapidly aging out and increasing numbers of main-line churches are struggling to keep their doors open. The Generation Gap never went away and has widened. Traditional churches are struggling to attract Millennials along with a growing demographic called the “Dones”. These are “Baby-Boomers”, “Baby-Busters” and “Gen-X-ers” who have decided they are “done” with church life. The unique thing about these once highly active congregants is that they remain persons deeply committed to faith values who have simply lost confidence in the church institution. Local churches find themselves in a growing competition with secular claims on Sundays. Other factors such as control politics, doctrinal dogma and failure to embrace technology contribute to a palpable decline in church attendance. Many traditional congregations have abandoned their core mission, perceiving culture as the enemy resulting in a secular view of the local church as a form of tribalism.

I received my Masters-of-Divinity in a Southern Baptist Seminary, which prepared me in theology, homiletics, evangelism and all things Baptist. My training served me well for my first five years in the pastorate, until I discovered that many congregations had become inward focused, held captive by insecurity and tradition, not willing to reach the marginalized and lonely. I realized I had become one of many “Eleanor Rigby” pastors.

Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear, No one comes near.                                   All the lonely people, where do they all come from?                                                                               All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”

For the next 20 years I committed my life to leading churches in providing pathways for the disenfranchised, the recovery person and hopeless to embrace the love of God within the community of faith. This often required pleading with the church stockholders to rekindle a passion to embrace people as Jesus did, in the messiness of their deepest need without condemnation. The words of the Casting Crowns song, “Does Anybody Hear Her” became embedded in my heart and soul.

 

“Does anybody hear her?  Can anybody see?                                                                                       Or does anybody even know she’s going down today?  Under the shadow of our steeple,                                                              With all the lost and lonely people                                                                                       Searching for the hope that’s tucked away in you and me.                                        If judgment looms under every steeple  If lofty glances from lofty people                                                                            Who can’t see past her scarlet letter…                                                                                                             And we never even met her.

I found it difficult to hear this song and hold back tears. What saddened me is that I found few in the church who would cry with me. Traditional churches move at the speed of church and culture change usually brings pain. “Ch-Ch-Changes!” 

Which brings me to why I am here. I currently serve as the Director of Aftercare and Community Care at Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service. I also serve as a staff chaplain. I am here because of the opportunity I have been given to meet people at perhaps their most devastating place of need. Death is inevitable. We’re all going to die, it’s just a matter of when. And when death happens, people show up here; devastated, weary, sad, often angry and usually vulnerable. Aftercare allows me to counsel death’s survivors; wives, husbands, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, and kids…all deeply grieving. And I have discovered that an increasing number of families choose a funeral or memorial service here, instead of in a local church.

 

Upon arriving at Morrissett, I enrolled in “Celebrant Training”. I was not familiar with the Celebrant concept, but I observed a viable need for the Celebrant Service. We are serving increasing numbers of un-churched people who prefer a more up-beat, secular and less formal Life Celebration. For a veteran Baptist pastor, this required… “Ch-Ch-Changes!” … in the way I speak with families, as well as my service content and delivery. I embrace many families who have no church affiliation and reject stereotypical preaching or anything that comes across as “preachy”. Some families prefer a blended service where a secular Life Celebration service is supplemented with scripture, prayer and reference to the afterlife. Still, these families do not want to endure a traditional church service funeral. In either case, they desire a service where the celebrant demonstrates a knowledge of the deceased, having never met that person.

Celebrant training has helped prepare me to better serve grieving families. I feel I am a more effective communicator; able to relate to people, designing a service that meets their unique needs. As I listen to families, my objective is to develop a life tribute by painting a verbal portrait based upon the shared stories and memories of their loved one. The grieving family deserves nothing less.

 

I am so grateful to be a part of the Morrissett family of caring staff who warmly embrace the Celebrant concept, demonstrating respect for the grieving family and dignity for the deceased. It also communicates compassion and inclusion to an increasingly multi-cultural, spiritually diverse community as we walk with them through their grief. And in doing so, we are willing to help them “Turn and face the strange”.

 

 

 

 

Not Alone

“All my friends are dead!” Those heartbreaking words were uttered by a lifelong family friend as we stood together at the the coffin where my grandmother’s body rested. My spirit ached for her as I watched tears fall down those beautiful cheeks. At this point in life my friend was already over 90 years old and had lived a long life full of love and laughter, friendship and memories. She remains one sweetest, most beloved individuals you would ever meet. Yet aside from her devoted son, who stood at her side, she feels alone.

Due to her limited mobility and the passage of time she feels that life has cast her aside. Outside the walls of her home everything moves at the customary pace, while she is sitting still. She can no longer be a part of most of the activities that used to give her joy and community. The community she used to be a part of is also dwindling because over the decades she has watched as, one by one, her friends left this earth.

“It’s so special that you could be here today,” I said.

“I’m not special,” she replied, so I hugged her as tightly as I could to show her differently.

It made me realize that I needed to be intentional about showing her on a regular basis just how special she was. It’s not enough to hug her every chance I get, I need to make the opportunities happen.

Our lives are so busy, and it is easy to get caught up in the flurry of endless schedules. Sometimes that means we sacrifice human connection and waste what little time we have left with those we love. It may make us feel very alone. In the meantime, there may be people who love us who also feel alone.

Life can go by very quickly. If we aren’t intentional about making time to spend with those we care about we may discover one day that it’s too late.

Today I encourage you to make sure that no one you love feels left behind. Slow down and reach out. Go give them hugs, a LOT of hugs, every chance you get. Talk. Listen. Remind them that they are not alone. In the process you just might realize that you are not alone, either.

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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

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

 

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

Grieve and be Happy

IF  there is one thing I have learned about the holiday season, it is this simple-truth: There is no perfect holiday! I need to admit that I am not the Christmas freak I used to be. Like you, when I was younger, Christmas possessed a magical quality. But aging is its own impractical joke. Just living can rob us of the energy required to be a kid again. My wife and I have often observed that having fun seems to require a lot more work! During the holidays every mall looks and smells the same and holiday traffic resembles a third world country! And while I’m on a roll, how many people do you know will give their spouse a Lexus or Mercedes as a Christmas gift the way the holiday car commercials suggest? And…Am I the only one cringing when I hear the song, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”?

Please understand that I am still drawn to those great Christmas movies like, “A Christmas Carol”, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “White Christmas”, “Miracle on 34th Street”, “A Christmas Story”, “Christmas Vacation”, “Home Alone” (1&2 only) and “Elf”. Now, I realize that there is a very broad generational span between Jimmy Stewart and Will Farrell, but each movie represents a different season of my life. Those films take us to a better place and allow us to escape reality just long enough to laugh, cry or just fall asleep with something good on our brains.

The challenge that we face during the holidays is our unrealistic expectation. Every year I yearn to recapture the sentiment and fervency of the Christmas season only to realize that I have, in the words of the Righteous Brothers, “Lost that lovin’ feelin’.” And I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get it back.

That’s what grief does. It dulls the edge, creates shadows and dims the light. To those on the outside, grief is an irrational downer. Grief is real and normal, but is so misunderstood by so many.

   You might cringe at the sentimentalism of, “Oh, There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays…” because, at this moment, your home ino place for the holidays!  

If you have experienced the loss of someone to death, loss of a relationship, loss of a or a job, or even the loss of your health in this last year you may be grieving because the issue is the same for everyone…loss. And while others are wrapping gifts, shopping on line, heading to the mall or letting the velvet tones of holiday crooners like Bing Crosby to Michael Buble’ wash over them, you might cringe at the sentimentalism of “There’s No Place Like Home for The Holidays…” And, you change the radio station, because, at this Christmas … your home is no place for the holidays!

Want to know a second simple-truth? That’s O.K.

I once heard a great quote in one of my favorite (non-holiday) movies, “Rudy”. Young Rudy Ruettiger asks Father Cavanaugh if he has prayed enough to achieve his goal of being accepted at Notre Dame.

The wise priest replies, “We pray in our time, God answers in his time.” The reason why I find this quote so appropriate is because that’s how grief works. We want to end grief on our time when grief ends on its own time.

I encourage you to allow yourself to grieve. Don’t compare your grief with some else’s grief. And don’t be surprised when someone doesn’t understand why you should just “cheer up”, or that you “should be over it by now”. Your loss, your pain, your heart…doesn’t answer to them.

But, I have come to believe that the most effective way to be able to arrive on the other side of grief is to be free to grieve. Grieving is the mind’s way of coming to terms with our heart. It’s working out the pain of the loss of something irreplaceable to us, and because of that void, we find that we are vulnerable. When someone we love dies, grieving is our way of insuring that the one for whom we grieve will remain forever embedded in our hearts; that no one will ever be able to take that away from us. But I must share one last simple-truth:                                                                                                      It’s O.K. to be Happy!

I’ll say it again…It’s O.K. to experience happiness! No one will judge you for laughing. No one will criticize you for being with other people or holiday shopping. The one who has died will not feel you have betrayed them by allowing yourself to give and receive happiness. Your happiness doesn’t cheapen your grief, and it doesn’t dilute your love for the one you miss so much.

 So, grieve as you should…But don’t feel guilty for feeling joy this holiday season.

 

Greg

Greg Webber, Director
MFCS Community Care/Aftercare
Certified Celebrant

 

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