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Forgive Me – Forgive You

1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.” As a pastor, it wasn’t uncommon when counseling a couple that one of them would become historical. They would begin enumerating everything their spouse had done wrong. It’s tempting to keep a “screw-up list” as ammunition for future fights, but in a healthy relational dynamic, love doesn’tkeep score. Healthy relationships practice forgiving each other a lot! It is not uncommon for grieving families to expose have “family feuds” in the presence of the funeral director. As the Director of Aftercare, I must embrace the need to talk openly about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not only the most difficult act of love but is very often misunderstood.

FOUR THINGS FORGIVENESS IS NOT

FORGIVENESS IS NOT CONDITIONAL                         

Authentic forgiveness is not based on someone else’s response and thus is not earned. Forgivenessis not reserved just for the unintentional hurt.

FORGIVENESS IS NOT RESUMING A RELATIONSHIP WITHOUT CHANGES 

This is one of the most misunderstood concepts. Forgiveness is not the same as restoring a relationship. Forgiveness is immediate, but reconciliation requires time and effort. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Forgiveness takes care of the damage done but doesn’t guarantee a restored relationship. Forgiveness is my part in reconciliation, with someonewho’s hurt me. We’re obligated by God to forgive, but we are not obligated to trust that person or instantly restore the relationship. An abusive spouse batters his wife repeatedly until finally she says, “No more!  You’re harming me. You’re harming the kids. You’re out of here.” And if he comes back and says, “I’m so sorry.  I’m ashamed of what I’ve done. It will neverhappen again. Will you forgive me?” She is spuritually and morally compelled to say, “Yes, I do forgive you.” But when he says, “OK!  So, I can come back home?”  That’s another issue! To require the earning of trust is not unforgiving, but part of the healing process. Forgiveness requires mercy…Trust requires change!

FORGIVENESS IS NOT… FORGETTING WHAT HAPPENED

We’ve heard the cliché “Forgive and Forget”. The problem is that it’s impossible to forget. Our brains are God-designed computers for stored memory. Scientists tell us that our brains are naturally programmed to not forget anything. In fact, repressing the memory is unhealthy. There is something better than denial that requires spiritual maturity.  It’s called “Remembering-but-Realizing”,  the willingness to understand that, even though this terrible thing happened to me – through the hurt, I choose to turn it around and use it for good.

“Remembering-butRealizing” helps us move from the past to the present in a healthy way. It gives meaning to the phrase, “letting go and move on!”  It’s about letting go of the pain, the hurt and the anger; letting go of the bitterness by refusing to hold on to it, because we are just not wired to forget. I’ve had people ask, “When will I get to the point where I forget all those hurts?” It ell them, “Never.” The key islearning to see it through the lens of God’s love, grace, fairness and hope. I can tell you from experience that God gives hope to the wounded heart!

FORGIVENESS ISNOT… MY RIGHT – WHEN I AM NOT THE WOUNDED ONE

I can’t forgive people who haven’t hurt me. This is an unhealthy concept; offering a kind of blanket forgiveness to those whom we have no legitimate right to forgive. Not long after the Boston Marathon bombing, a Richmond woman arranged to have the terrorist Sarniev’s body buried just up the road in Caroline County. She announced that we must forgive Sarniev. She said, “I have forgiven Sarniev.”  The problem is none of her relatives were murdered or injured in Boston that bloody day. She wasn’t maimed or crippled. Shehad no ethical or spiritual authority to offer a forgiveness that wasn’t hers to offer. You and I can only forgive those who’vehurt us. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be angry at someone because oftheir actions. I simply cannot and should not offer forgiveness to someone onbehalf of someone else.

Thefuneral business is a complex inter weaving of science, law and economics, as well as emotional and spiritual care. We often find ourselves caught in the middle of family conflict crossfire. We must navigate the choppy waters of family relationships infected with the bitterness of unresolved conflict. The more we understand the nature of forgiveness, the better equipped we will be to helpfamilies as agents of healthy change.

Greg Webber

Director of Aftercare

Morrissett Funeral & Cremation Service

What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

It is common to find ourselves at a loss for words when someone we care about has experienced the death of a loved one. It can be overwhelming because we are torn between our desire to support them and our fear of somehow saying the wrong thing and making things worse. So what should we do?

First of all, our main focus should be compassion. Consideration & empathy for how the other person is feeling should come before our concerns about our own feelings. Yes, we may be uncomfortable and even sad ourselves, but we are there to support that other person. 

Asking them what they need can be helpful, although they may not be able to articulate or even know what they need at that moment. You could simply say, “I’m here for you.” Then find a way to be present of offer assistance. Check in with them regularly and let them know you still care. It might be helpful if you bring food, but make sure it’s food they like and just not a casserole of leftovers you found in your fridge.

Other possible things to say are:

I’m so sorry this happened. I know how much you cared for them.

This must be very difficult.

I’m here if you need to talk… or not talk but need a friend. 

You can feel whatever you need to when you’re around me. It’s okay to not be okay.

What did you like most about them? ~or~ Can you tell me more about them?

Another thing that can be comforting to hear are stories you remember about the person who passed away, or why they were special to you (if you knew them). It is vitally important to know that a loved one is going to live on in the memories of others. It’s good to hear about the impact they had on the world and those with whom they came in contact. 

Things that are NOT helpful and are even painful to hear are:

It was God’s will.

It’s going to be okay.

You need to move on.

They are in a better place.

At least they are no longer suffering. 

Everything happens for a reason.

While all of these may be well-intentioned and you may believe them to be true, they can further complicate the already overwhelming emotions that someone experiences while mourning.

Another thing that can come across the wrong way is saying “I know what you’re feeling” unless you have experienced a similar loss and actually do know. But even sharing your own stories of loss can be tricky to bring up because feeling empathy for your loss while also grappling with their own feelings may overwhelm your loved one. Or they may feel that you are trying to downplay their loss by saying yours was worse. It’s best instead to keep the focus on the one you are trying to support. 

The most important thing you can say or do is actually to not say anything at all. Just listen. Just be present. If they want to talk, let them talk. If they want to tell the same story you have heard ten times already, listen again. If they want to simply be silent and not talk about it don’t pressure them to share. We often underestimate the value of silent, unconditional support.

Ultimately people may not remember what you said when they were going through a difficult time, but they will remember how you made them feel. 

Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Funeral Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist

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

 

Alone, But Not Alone

Those in the grip of grief know that certain times of the year are difficult. Wedding anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas time, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can evoke strong emotions. Even Easter week can present challenges for grieving families. In my experience as a Funeral Celebrant, I have found that most people regard themselves as spiritual beings in search of a greater peace and hope when mourning the death of someone they love. When asking a family how little or much religious content they want in the life celebration, the most frequent response is, “We would like spiritual emphases. We just don’t want it to feel like we’re in a church service.” In all honesty, I don’t want my funeral to feel like a church service either! With that in mind, I offer these biblically based thoughts, especially to those grieving and feeling very alone.

It is important to understand that solitude and aloneness are different. Grief will often lead us to a healthy solitude, where we seek a sanctuary of deep contemplation that can be rejuvenating. Aloneness is the result of the dread of isolation that brings with it a heaviness of spirit. Grieving spouses might feel isolated from couples and friends, as if on an emotional island. Aloneness takes us down a dark alley of despair that no one could possibly understand our hurt. I cannot pretend to understand the pain of losing a friend or family member to suicide or homicide. My wife Kathy and I have been married for nearly forty-six years. I cannot imagine the dread of waking up each morning without her beside me.

My faith system is rooted in Christianity; in a God and Savior who have shown me many times that even when I feel alone, I am never alone. Here are some examples in the context of grief:

ALONE IN OUR FEAR – BUT NOT ALONE

Fear of circumstances, fear of the unknown or fear of not being in control. Not only will fear paralyze us, we often try to hide our fear. All of us possess hidden fears. We might attempt to fake it, cover them up or even medicate them. But fear is a universal reality which is exacerbated by grief. The solution is found in three concepts: Truth, Love& Faith.

Begin with telling God the Truth. Lamentations 3:55 says, “From the bottom of the pit I cried out to you, O Lord. And when I begged you to listen to my cry, you heard me. And you answered me and told me not to be afraid.”

Second – Rely on the Absolute Love of God. 1 John 4:18 tells us, “Perfect love drives out all fear.” God is love…His love is perfect…His perfect love is stronger than any fear!

Third – Put Faith into Practice.We must Remember that faith doesn’t eliminate the fear. Faith simply gives us the courage to move beyond the fear, working through feelings of vulnerability. Remember that courage is not something with which we are born, which is why the exercising of faith is often uncomfortable.

ALONE IN OUR ANGER – BUT NOT ALONE

Anger is one of the interlocking emotions on the grief journey. Most of us don’t want to deal with anger, so we tend to build an emotional wall. We “isolate to insolate”. Perhaps you’ve noticed what a cat or dog does when it is sick or wounded? Instinctively, it will find to a secluded, virtually unreachable place to rest, because it knows it is vulnerable to predators. We can find ourselves on that emotionally secluded three-foot square island, where protection from emotional predators is accompanied by aloneness. 2 Kings 20:5 says, “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears…I will heal you.” God is saying we are alone, but not alone.

ALONE IN OUR SORROW – BUT NOT ALONE

Jesus grieved. He was described the “Man of Sorrows”. Sorrow like anger, is one of the interwoven processes of grief. On the night before Jesus was crucified, he was alone and praying in a garden. What we see in Jesus solitary conversation with his Father was intense sorrow. Any parent who has ever sobbed over the decisions of their child understands this agonizing concept. But, just as surely as God the Father was with Jesus in his aloneness, He is with you and me in our sorrows!

There is also a difference between sorrow and sadness. Sadness and happiness are temporary emotions. Sorrow is that protracted state of being that blocks any ray of happiness or hope. Unrelenting, chronic sorrow is a sure sign of depression. Depression illness can last a sorrowful life time. Yet, even in our depression we are not alone.

ALONE IN OUR PAIN – BUT NOT ALONE

Emotional pain and depression cause physical pain. Alone in the garden, Jesus grappled with that kind of pain. Jesus cried out in his heart to his Father; a muffled scream from his very soul that only he and his Father God could hear. And God sent an angel to strengthen him…alone, but not alone. And what about those awful times when you shook your fist and your heart screamed, “God, where ARE you in all of this?” By the way, it’s O.K.to be angry at God.He is a big God who understands and hurts with us. Now, just why is it that in our deepest need – our darkest hour we find we are alone but not alone? Because God NEVER wastes our pain! Just as surely as Jesus suffering and death was not wasted, neither is ours! And God wants to use our suffering for a greater purpose than we could ever imagine. This is the surest sign of healing.

So, this “Holy Week”, if grief washes over you like a sudden wave you were not prepared to handle; in your fear, anger, sorrow and pain, remember that God is always near. You may feel alone, but you are not alone.

Greg Webber,

Director of Aftercare & Community Care

Happiness after Death and Loss

Emotions can be complicated, and our feelings are not simple or easily labeled when someone we love dies. There is sadness, there is grief. There may also be anger or confusion. Fatigue is common, and also often feelings of guilt. Sometimes people feel nothing at all. Those who are left behind might even  wonder if they will ever feel happy again. 

Some people find that it is easier to cope with a loss by burying all of their emotions. It seems to be a way to stop the pain. Happiness is avoided because if that emotion, ANY emotion, is felt then the door is open to the other emotions that are less pleasant. Unfortunately this also prevents any healing from happening. Ignoring feelings of sadness doesn’t make it go away, and it can actually intensify those feelings when they finally come rushing to the surface. That’s not to say that it is wrong to feel numb. There is no WRONG way to grieve. But it can be detrimental to stay numb for an extend period of time. Eventually we have to allow ourselves to feel again. That includes giving ourselves permission be happy.

Why would we need to do that? Maybe we feel we don’t deserve it. maybe we feel guilt over some circumstance of our loved one’s death and think we should give penance somehow. Maybe moments of happiness hurt too much because they cause us to miss that person too much. The sounds of laughter sting our ears because that one person can’t be there to share it with us.

Or maybe we feel guilty about feeling happiness because it might mean to others, or even ourselves, that we have moved on. Aren’t we supposed to feel sad? We don’t want anyone to question, even for a moment, how much our departed loved one meant to us. We might not be ready to “move on”. Real life might feel too difficult.

There can be any number of reasons why happiness is hard after a loss. Inevitably, however, we can and we will be happy again. It might be hard to believe, but it’s true. It might come after a long wait, and it might only be sporadic at first, but there will be moments where the sun peeks through the clouds and our hearts begin to feel warm again.

How can we help ourselves be ready to embrace happiness again?

First of all we must forgive. Forgive our loved one for leaving us, forgive ourselves for whatever guilt we may feel. Then we can also give ourselves permission to feel happy.

Once forgiveness has occurred we can focus on the love we shared instead. 
Remembering our happy memories of someone who has died can help us smile and feel closer to them. Telling the stories to others can help, too.

Self-care is also a good way to find happiness. Exercise, spending time with friends, rest, or even a new activity can help rejuvenate the body and the soul. 

You deserve to live again, hard as that may be at first. Embrace the love around you, seek out and celebrate the light. Find ways to help make the world a better place. If you do these things happiness can’t help but find you. Then when you have those moments of joy let them fill you and strengthen you to help get through the moments that are less than joyful, because they will still come. Being happy doesn’t mean that we will never be sad again, it just means that even when things are difficult we know that it will get better. We know that we can get through. We know that the sun will peek through the clouds again. We know the light will shine. 

Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Funeral Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist

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

The 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.

_______________________________________________________________________________

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”.