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A woman whose son drowned in a lake now devotes her life to raising awareness about the high rates of deaths in dark waters and the need for life jackets. Adult children of parents who die of dementia become some of our most fierce and effective advocates for research and higher-quality care. We can make a tremendous difference if we push for greater education about end of life care in medical and nursing schools, social work programs, seminaries, and nurse aid training. We can demand that legislation support rather than inhibit quality medical care and palliative support.

There are numerous ways all of us can help that happen. Ira Byock wrote a great opinion piece a couple of years ago in The New York Times that speaks to this very issue. We can accuse and blame, we can get defensive and make excuses, or we can use our energy of frustration and anger to make things better. Together, we CAN make things different. As a hospice chaplain, bereavement counselor, and collector and teller of stories, I hear a lot of awful ones about bad deaths, made much more traumatic by the fact that they need not have been, for anyone involved. It drives us nuts when it happens. Without meaning to, we deflect their very real experience and lingering pain caused by a complicated death when we do that.

We humans do this. Certainly, there are a LOT of misunderstandings lay persons sometimes have about the dying process that can play into this whole dynamic:. A lack of education and emotional support that allows families to be misinformed in these ways can be just as traumatic, and is just as much our responsibility, as actual service failures. I so wish folks had shown up better for all of you, in the way you deserved. We must be honest that failures do happen in our field. We screw up, we have service failures. Poorly-trained, poorly equipped, and flat-out dysfunctional teams that have no business being in business DO exist.

Yes, they are the exception and not the rule, but to deny their existence is to deserve the loss of our halo. For the dedicated men and women who are hospice and palliative professionals, or other healthcare providers, our halo is not gone just because some of our colleagues, and even we at times, fail to get it right by omission or commission. It may have slipped, gotten a little tarnish over time, and be in need of repair, but we are still hospice angels in the best possible way who bring peace and comfort and quality of life and death to millions of persons across the globe.

With continued vigilance and effort, we will only get better with time and industry maturity, so long as we do not lose our hope or our incredibly tenacity that would make Dame Saunders proud.


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How often do you clean your house before someone comes to visit? In fact, I often joke that I pay her not so much to clean my house but to keep me accountable for decluttering and putting things away. We do something similar when we share ourselves publicly. Even before walking out the door we shower or at least put on a baseball cap to cover our bedhead.

When we share on social media, we cannot help but follow the same model. Some things stick with us. How many of us hurt ourselves, with aching backs and restricted breathing, by walking around with a way too tensed up torso trying to hide that our muffin top exists? We put the best of our smiling lives out there for everyone we know to see. In fact, increasingly research tells us what many already instinctively know—comparing ourselves with what we see of our friends on Facebook can leave us feeling depressed. Check out her incredible book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Of course we want to put our best foot forward.

Of course we want to present our best selves.

April 1992 General Conference

Shame holds us back from vulnerability and authenticity, and when we avoid these two things, letting people around us know how we are really REALLY doing, we rob ourselves of the support we need and deserve during tough times. Certainly there is great wisdom in carefully choosing to whom we bare our soul or expose our belly. We protect ourselves, out of deep wisdom, from sharing our tender selves with those who have not yet earned that sacred right. Each of us has our own story about trusting the wrong person and winding up on the receiving end of their own deer-in-the-headlights abandonment, judgment, shame, or other betrayal.

We are allowed to be judicious with our sharing and protective of our grief process. We MUST be mindful about whom we invite into our shrunken and shaken world when in the midst of acute grief. Real bravery in grief is to feel it, experience it, express it, and let it be what it needs to be without fear of shame and without judging ourselves. Let them wrestle with their own misguided beliefs about how grief is supposed to act. Let them face their own internalized shame about expressing what get labeled as negative emotions. Find safe places to let your grief be seen, really witnessed, and cared for.

Sniff out the people in your circles who get it and are able to sit with their own discomfort well enough to be with you lovingly in yours. She also writes beautifully about the role a dedicated meditation practice has had in the last several years in significantly improving her depression and ability to manage it in her book Sit, Stay, Heal.

During one of these recent bouts she shared daily on social media, she noted that some were really worried about her and wanting to fix her pain rather than let her be with it, experiencing and caring for it as she needed to. Silenced grief can sometimes be just as or even more destructive than the original source of our pain itself. We have to lift the veil and help teach each other that grief need not be prettied up, hurried up, airbrushed, edited, or silenced. There is no shame in grief. For each of you who takes the brave step of letting your grief be seen, thank you for giving others of us permission to be real and give our grief the space it needs to breathe and move, and find healing over time.

Read more about coping with and owning your grief in Sharing Our Stories: Creatively Holding Onto Memories. Each one had a story, of the 42 years she had with him until 3 years before, and of their 4 kids and 8 grandkids. My friend was exhausted from long weeks at the hospital until the doctors said it was time to go home with hospice care, but she was determined to get the tree up for her mom. As her mom slept off the ambulance ride home in the next room, with a baby monitor on her bedside table, my friend directed us in putting together the tree, covering it with twinkling lights, and making sure the favorite ornaments were front and center.

The durable medical equipment company arrived and set up the oxygen unit and other equipment in the living room, with the hospital bed sitting in the middle of all the activity, directly facing the tree. After the nice young men left, we worked together to get her mom into the electric bed where she could be adjusted to both her comfort and that of those caring for her. She was too weak to do more than smile at the dazzling display in front of her, but her eyes caressed each story hanging from metal hooks and yarn loops and glistened with love and pride for those whom she loved.

She absorbed all of this with her eyes now closed, lifting her nose to catch wafts of freshly popped corn, dressing, spiral-sliced ham, and pumpkin pies brought and shared around her by family and friends. Three days later, more nice young me came in and carried her mom gently from her bed, as the family quietly wept and walked her out to the dark van. The medical equipment and unused supplies were packed and moved.

The bed went last. But the tree still stood. Her beloved had an idea, and invited our help. From a box in the attic, construction paper hearts cut carefully by small pairs of stubbed scissors and two generations of tiny hands over the course of 40 years came down. Macaroni necklaces on red yarn, and other valentines, found their way to dangle amongst the twinkling lights of the tree.

We carefully wrapped Christmas on February 13 th , putting the boxes not too far away just in case this was too much, too soon. Too full of emotion to speak, her eyes caressed each story hanging from metal hooks and yarn loops and glistened with love and pride for the memories of the mom whom she loved. For a full year, family and friends in various groupings would come take part in this ritual of re-decorating the tree for holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays. With each one, there was more laughter, fewer tears. And it was all perfect. This is a month-long series to support persons grieving and those who love them.

Quotes on Grief

As this 31 Day series draws to a close, I want to say a bit more about the intersection between Trauma and Grief. Grief related to loss is an expected part of our lives. We know that we and others age and that changes will come, including the death of others and even our own. Trauma is not something we naturally expect. Traumatic experiences or events that cause physical or emotional harm can overwhelm our capacity to cope and the effects can be lasting, leaving us terrified and feeling vulnerable, powerless, and unavoidably distracted. Some grief experts believe that all loss results not only in grief but also trauma, as the loss is traumatic in and of itself.

Therefore, not all grief will contain trauma but some grief could be traumatic. More agreement exists that the experience of trauma will naturally result in grief in addition to traumatic distress. Trauma often involves a lack of trust, safety, feelings of normalcy, and it challenges our existential beliefs about how the world should be. Those losses contribute to grief that must be mourned in addition to the trauma from which the person must recover. Therefore, most agree that all trauma involves some form of grief. Teasing out the relationship between trauma and grief is important because the treatment interventions differ between the two.

When both are present, the key is determining how to treat both and in what order. In some cases, treating the severe distress of trauma must come first so the person can feel safe enough to do any further work. There seems to come a point, however, when the person must grieve the losses resulting from the trauma before they can let go and continue healing. I spent a great deal of time healing from a traumatic event and was doing pretty well, but then deep grief arose to which I had to attend.


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  6. Once I did, I achieved an even deeper healing and freedom than ever before. It profoundly impacted my professional work by giving me a greater perspective and more profound respect for the importance of the role of grief in trauma. There are many ways these factors may combine, or collide, to result in traumatic grief. If the death was the result of an accident, natural disaster, crime, or sudden and unexpected illness, for example, the seemingly capricious nature of the death can significantly complicate our grief.

    The death of someone similar to us in some way can also hit too close to home, leaving us feeling unsafe in the world and experiencing the loss as traumatic. I once performed the crisis debrief for student medics who were the first responders after a significant tragedy at a campus. Many were already fairly seasoned as paramedics and EMTs, but seeing their classmates who looked and dressed like them, whom they even recognized from campus and classes, was just way too much.

    It blasted past their natural defenses, the mechanisms that protect us from being constantly afraid of something happening to us, and made them come face-to-face with the uncertainty of life. That, as much as anything, was what they struggled with as they mourned their classmates and dealt with the trauma of the tragedy. If trauma has been a part of your experience, it is worth seeking support for the grief related to the losses that accompanied the trauma. Getting the proper type and amount of support is important, and certainly understandable and well-deserved.

    I hope you find what works best for you and your unique situation. Much of the poetry in Sharing Our Stories was written and graciously offered to the workbook by my friend, Janie Cook. I thank her for agreeing to open her tender heart, once again, and share it with us. You can learn more about Janie and her story at the end of this post. To lose a loved one to suicide creates a uniquely complicated grief — one that is often deeply misunderstood, because to take in why someone would die this way requires opening up to their immense psychic pain.

    Society wants to avoid facing that pain, that fear, and in so doing creates a stigma around suicide that shrouds it in secrecy and isolates those who grieve in silence. Stigma reveals itself in the language society has adopted to describe a death by suicide. Add to that, the judgmental facial expressions, the shame cast upon your loved one and the walls that go up around you as you try to live with this loss and you see the obstructive and destructive impact stigma can have. We try to remember and have compassion for the fear behind them and then, with as much kindness as possible, offer our words of love in describing who our son was and the lethal impact of his acute, untreatable depression.

    Many of the poems were contributed by friend and colleague, Janie Cook, and are shared with her gracious permission. Janie and her husband have two children—a son and a daughter—and live in Austin, Texas. Again, many thanks to Janie, and others, whose words are shared throughout this text. I'm not really here to keep you from freaking out. I'm here to be with you while you freak out, or grieve or laugh or suffer or sing. It is a ministry of presence. It is showing up with a loving heart. You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces - my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope.

    These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. At some of the darkest moments in my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me-some because they cared about me and it hurt them to see me in pain; others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability, and that was more than they could handle. If they had not words to make me feel better, they sat in silence much better than saying, "You'll get over it," or "It's not so bad; others have it worse" and I loved them for it.

    But he sobering truth is that if I step onto the path of self-destruction, I know I will never come back. While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till it be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it. Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.

    Death and Dying; Grief and Loss

    Man, when he does not grieve, hardly exists. Even hundredfold grief is divisible by love. Sorrow makes us all children again - destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing. Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. If you're going through hell, keep going.

    We acquire the strength we have overcome. Time is a physician that heals every grief. The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost. There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out.

    Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow. You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present. Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.

    There are things that we don't want to happen but have to accept, things we don't want to know but have to learn, and people we can't live without but have to let go. If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.


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    Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight. In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing.

    Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it. The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep. Every evening I turn my worries over to God. He's going to be up all night anyway. She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts. While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.

    As long as I can I will look at this world for both of us. As long as I can I will laugh with the birds, I will sing with the flowers, I will pray to the stars, for both of us. It doesn't go away; it becomes a part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving Bailey because I will never stop loving her. That's just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don't get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy. Bucchianeri , Brushstrokes of a Gadfly.

    You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same.

    64 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Grief

    Nor should you be the same nor would you want to. The need to tell is both a need to tell oneself and a need to be heard Telling and being heard are the first steps toward reconnection. Stories of the People Left Behind. We Remember Them… In the rising of the sun and in its going down, We remember them; In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, We remember them; In the opening of buds and in the warmth of summer, We remember them; In the rustling of leaves and the beauty of autumn, We remember them; In the beginning of the year and when it ends, We remember them; When we are weary and in need of strength, We remember them; When we are lost and sick at heart, We remember them; When we have joys we yearn to share, We remember them; So long as we live, they too shall live For they are now a part of us as We remember them.