Month: October 2021

When Widowhood Comes Early

When Widowhood Comes Early

It is always devastating when one loses a beloved spouse but especially so when the death occurs at a young age. 

Whether by accident, from illness or as a result of warfare, becoming widowed early in life presents special challenges to the bereaved.

Victor M. Parachin, a minister and National Funeral Directors Association grief educator, writes extensively on all aspects of grief.

Below are some of his thoughts about what can happen when widowhood comes early.

  1. Feelings of shock and numbness are common.
  2. The hardest time comes after the funeral. A massive amount of support is generated in the first few days and weeks after a death. The hardest time for young widows comes in the third and fourth months when concern expressed by family and friends has eased. Young widows report that keeping busy by returning to work or volunteering more of their time is helpful during this period.
  3. Having children can be a blessing. Because they need love, nurture and attention, grieving mothers and fathers are naturally provided with ways to invest their energy and temporarily distract them from their own grief. But children can complicate a young widow’s grieving because he or she must help the children cope with the loss of the other parent at a time of emotional devastation. Some hospice organizations offer a special program “Wave Riders” which provides unique support to help bereaved children.
  4. Young widows have no peer group. When a man or woman is 60, 70 or 80, he or she generally has friends who have lost a wife or husband. Consequently, older men and women have opportunities to view how grief affects their friends and have time to think about how they would cope if they were widowed. Younger widows however, do not have such peer groups and are less prepared emotionally and practically.
  5. Support groups are vital. Because there is a lack of peer support for younger widows in our culture, counselors strongly suggest that a young widow seek and join a grief support group as soon as possible. Your neighborhood funeral director can be a valuable resource to suggest the names of local support groups or grief counselors.
  6. Unique problems plague younger widows. One issue is the daily challenge of single parenthood and raising children without a father or mother. Women may experience added financial pressure because a major income source often disappears after the death of a husband. Men must replace the parenting and household duties that had been provided by the wife. Young parents may want to consider term life insurance policies for both to protect their families from financial disaster if either parent dies at a young age.
  7. Keep it simple and keep it the same. Maintaining familiar routines can be a source of comfort for the widow and children.

As for re-entering the social scene after the death of a spouse, it is important to do what feels best for your particular situation.

Some young widows choose to date again and remarry.

Others have no interest in establishing a new family unit.

But whatever course is taken, remember to defer drastic changes in your lifestyle and seek out grief counselors for the advice and comfort needed at this difficult time.

Grief After the Murder of a Loved One

Grief After the Murder of a Loved One

There have been several headlines this week in our local news about murders. Grief that results from the murder or violent death of a loved one is like no other.

It is intense and overwhelming.

The sudden and unexpected death of the loved one in such a brutal way can result in shock and disbelief. Murder is such an unnatural end to life.

For families and friends of homicide victims, the normal feelings of grief are compounded by rage and a desire to destroy the murderer of the loved one. Such emotions can lead to despair and guilt.

Survivors may be further upset by having to cope with law enforcement officials, intrusive reporters and curious, insensitive neighbors and friends.

Under these circumstances, it is difficult for survivors to grieve quietly and at their own pace.

It can be helpful for the family to designate a spokesperson to help them interact with the media and others who are seeking information.

Funerals are comforting because they provide a ritual to help say goodbye and accept the condolences of relatives and friends.

But a victim’s funeral may be disrupted or delayed, adding even more agony to the grief process.

In this situation, the family funeral director can be invaluable in managing funeral arrangements, minimizing intrusions and providing support to the family.

The New York State Office of Victim Services maintains a website with information helpful to victims of crime and their families.

The U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime maintains a website with many helpful resources.

Helping Children Deal with Grief

Helping Children Deal with Grief

We sympathize when we see someone experiencing grief caused by the death of a loved one, but there is something especially poignant about a child who grieves over the loss of a parent, grandparent, sibling, or even a beloved pet.

When children experience the death of a loved one they grieve just as adults do, but, they may not be able to verbalize their sorrow.

To compound this, many adults may not feel comfortable dealing with children’s sadness, especially when grieving themselves.
They don’t know how to start the conversation, they don’t know what to say, and, especially, they are fearful of saying the wrong things.

So what can you do? There are many wonderful books that can help. For example, in Helping Children Grieve, Theresa Huntley includes some basic suggestions excerpted here that will help adults who want to console a grieving child:

  • Be aware of personal feelings. When we are in touch with our own feelings (sadness, loss, regret), we will be better able to help bereaved children deal with theirs.
  • Recognize that each child’s level of understanding is different. Provide the children with information and responses appropriate for their age level.
  • Recognize that each child will grieve differently.
  • Encourage questions.
  • Encourage the expression of feelings. Let children know that it is okay to show their emotions.
  • Encourage participation in events following the death. Tell the children about the events that will be taking place (i.e., wake, funeral, burial). Give the children permission to choose the extent of their participation.
  • Help a child to commemorate the life of the deceased.
  • Try to maintain a sense of normalcy. To restore some semblance of security, try to follow the children’s normal routine as closely as possible.

Also, the popular television show Sesame Street has many wonderful resources to help connect with a child who is mourning.

Children generally grieve in different ways than adults. As family and caregivers, we can recognize this and guide them with love through a difficult time. Ask your family funeral director for names of local bereavement counselors who can help.

What Is Closure?

What Is Closure?

We hear people talking about “closure” as if there is a door that can be shut after experiencing a tragedy in our lives, losing a loved one or being witness to a horrific event such as the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Friends might ask “Haven’t you reached closure yet?”

Grief cannot be forced or pushed or closed off from our minds. There is no magic formula for working through grief.

The fact of the matter is that grief must be expressed and dealt with. We all experience and react to loss in different ways depending on the relationship of the deceased to us, our past experiences with loss, and sometimes even our health and emotional state.

Grieving for a lost loved one can take years, sometimes a lifetime.

According to Curtis Rostad, a Certified Funeral Service Practitioner who has been a licensed funeral director since 1973, says there is no such thing as closure.

He maintains that those who refuse to begin the journey through grief simply delay their own recovery.

Rostad goes on to explain why he thinks the concept of closure is mentioned so often in today’s culture.

“It should come as little surprise that a generation of people brought up with minute rice, instant coffee and microwave ovens would search for quick relief from something we call grief.”

“We hear it from those who go to the scene of a disaster where their family member has died. We hear it from those who witness the execution of the person convicted of killing their loved one.

We hear it expressed by those who have someone missing in war.”

In helping families deal with grief, he has found that seeking closure only produces feelings of frustration that join the emotions of sorrow.

There is no closure, but there is a point where people have a great deal of acceptance, even peace of mind, and are able to move on to a different frame of mind – a frame of mind that leaves them supported by the memories, but empowered to continue with their lives knowing they did all they could do with respect to the person they lost.

Why would anyone seek closure? Why would anyone want to close the door on thoughts about a departed loved one? Grief will soften in the years after a loss, but the door to memories should always be open.

Paying Final Respects

Paying Final Respects

The Final Goodbye – Paying Your Last Respects

I am always amazed when people tell me they don’t attend funerals. Their reasons are something like: “Oh! I don’t like to be around unhappy people” and “I never know what to say,” or “I’m just too busy.”

These people ignore the fact that a funeral is not about “them” — it is about a friend, relative or coworker who has died and whose survivors would welcome a gentle display of compassion.

A business associate once told me that she was gladdened by the appearance during visiting hours of a man who had worked with her husband early in his career.

“It was wonderful to hear that someone from my husband’s past remembered him fondly and made a special trip to tell me so.”

A condolence visit is important to reassure the bereaved that while their loved one is gone, they are not alone and that others are thinking of them.

Upon your arrival, go to the family and offer a simple statement of condolence.

If you are not well-known to the family when introducing yourself, be sure to mention if you were a business associate or an acquaintance of the deceased so that the family members can acknowledge you.

You need not stay long; 15 minutes can give you enough time to express your sympathy and ask what you can do to help.

You may stay longer if you feel that the family is comforted by your presence. 

Be sure to sign the guest register and indicate your connection to the deceased if the family doesn’t know you well.

Don’t worry about what to say. A simple “I’m so sorry” is usually sufficient.

Try not to say “I know how you feel.”

Everyone reacts to the death of a loved one in a different way and you couldn’t possibly know how they feel.

Quiet conversation with other mourners is permissible, but direct questions about details of the death are to be avoided.

If the family wants to talk about the cause of death, then listen attentively.

Don’t offer advice unless you are asked.

Don’t make comments such as “You’re young, you’ll marry again” or “You can have another child.”

Referring to the deceased’s obituary in the newspaper will give you details about the location and time of visitation hours and any religious or fraternal ceremonies that have been scheduled.

Many funeral homes post this information on their websites.

Obituaries will also indicate if the family prefers that a memorial donation in the name of the deceased be made to a favorite charity rather than sending flowers.

Conservative clothing is appropriate, but black is not necessary.

And yes, children can attend if they are old enough to understand the concept of death.

Parents are the best judge of whether or not attending a funeral will be meaningful to the child and comforting to the bereaved.

Thoughtful people will keep in touch after the funeral, especially with a widow or other survivor who now must live alone.

Offer a visit to a local museum or cultural event, or help with shopping or mowing the lawn.

We all have busy lives and many commitments. But taking a few moments of our time to provide comfort to the bereaved will give us enormous satisfaction and a feeling of well-being for ourselves and those we comfort.

Mother’s Day Can Be Tough When Mom is Gone

Mother’s Day Can Be Tough When Mom is Gone

One of the most difficult challenges facing those who have lost their mother during the past year is coping with the merriment that surrounds the first Sunday in May.

Mother’s Day can be especially upsetting for those who have recently lost their mom.

The loss of a parent has a great impact at any time but feelings of grief can be stronger now.

Joyous faces are everywhere; people are bustling about buying gifts, cards, and flowers, or talking about taking their mother to brunch. It’s hard to ignore. The radio, television, newspapers, and internet are a constant reminder of the occasion.

Many grief counselors say that problems can occur if friends and family ignore the recent death of a parent.

It is much healthier to respectfully acknowledge the death of a beloved family member and then go ahead with family rituals.

A loving parent would want the celebration to continue. Maybe you will still buy flowers, attend a church service, or prepare and enjoy a favorite meal of mom’s.

Victor M. Parachin, a grief educator and minister, offers some suggestions to help those who are grieving:

Create a memory book. Many find solace in documenting a parent’s life in a scrap book. Include photographs, diplomas, newspaper clippings, awards, accomplishments and other reminders of your parent’s life. Such a memory book can be comforting to you, and of great interest to children in the family.

Memorialize your parent. Donate the money you would have spent on gifts for her to a homeless shelter or favorite charity. Volunteer your time at a local charity that was supported by your parent.

Join a grief support group. Many find it extremely helpful to be with others who have experienced a similar loss because they can truly emphasize. A grief support group offers support and understanding and will help you to deal with the advice “to get over it.” Your local funeral director may sponsor grief support groups or be able to refer you to one in your area. Many Hospice organizations offer grief counseling at holiday time as well as other times throughout the year.

Yes, losing a parent creates a dreadful void in your life no matter if you are young or old. Pieces of your past are now silent. Your mother is not there to share in your future joys. An important source of friendship, wisdom and counsel is gone.

Perhaps Mother’s Day can serve as a tangible reminder to mom’s memory.

Holidays After the Loss of a Child

Holidays After the Loss of a Child

One of the most devastating events in life is when a parent loses a child. What can be normal ever again after the death of a son or daughter especially around the holidays?

In her book, “When the Bough Breaks,” psychologist Judith Bernstein, Ph.D. interviewed 55 parents who lost children ranging in age from three to 49.

She found that the worst days after the death of a child are holidays — days meant as festivals of happiness and joy are now days of tears.

Dr. Bernstein suggests that changing routine from how things used to be often makes the empty chair less prominent. Some families change where they normally would celebrate the holidays to another location, going to a relative’s house instead of having a holiday dinner at home.

Others use holiday time to vacation away from home.

Most families will ultimately come back to the old traditions, finding deeper values in the togetherness of family holidays. Though these days may be painful during the early years after a child’s loss, they seem not to remain so for most families.

While the backward glance at the empty chair never completely fades, the glance becomes more nostalgia and less loss.

Dr. Bernstein offers some advice to help with working through grief:

  • Follow your own instincts.
  • Plan holidays and special occasions in advance and let others know your wishes.
  • Allow pleasure and banish guilt.
  • Seek professional counseling if and when you have a sense that you need a hand.
  • Your family funeral director may be able to refer you to a local grief counselor in your area.

At this time of year, some funeral directors partner with religious groups to sponsor memorial services for survivors to start the holiday season with a time of reflection, and to honor their departed loved ones. The Community Hospice also offers special bereavement counseling sessions at this time of year.

Another helpful resource for grief support after the death of a child is The Compassionate Friends, a national nonprofit, self-help support organization that offers friendship and understanding to bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings. Founded in 1969, The Compassionate Friends has more than 600 local chapters across the country where regular meetings provide a caring environment for parents to work through their grief with the help of others who have “been there.”

To contact them, call: 877.969.0010 or visit their website.

Life is changed forever by the death of one’s child, but information, counseling and loving support help to guide parents through the course of mourning. Dr. Bernstein notes “These things are comforting and reassuring, can promote healing and prevent prolonged emotional damage.”

Holidays and Grief

Holidays and Grief

The holiday season can be overwhelming for those who have recently lost a loved one or for those who are still experiencing grief from an earlier loss.

Demands on our time and energy to have a perfect holiday “just like it used to be” are unrealistic and unhealthy for everyone and especially so for the bereaved.

New York State’s largest hospice program, the Community Hospice, has shared suggestions to help the bereaved cope with the emotional demands of the season:

Celebrate Life
In this season of peace and joy, acknowledge that life is worth living.

Slow Down and Enjoy What’s Important to You
Take time and make time for the people and things that really matter.

Treasure the Old and Welcome the New
Every holiday is filled with expectations, memories of holidays past, as well as people we have loved who may no longer be in our lives. Treasure your memories but allow this holiday season to evolve, with its own special surprises and cherished moments.

Take Care of Yourself
Consider what supportive and caring things you can do for yourself this holiday season. Find those people who encourage you to be yourself and accept your feelings – both happy and sad.

State Your Needs
Don’t be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Include the loved one’s name in your holiday conversations.

Seek Balance at This Hectic Time
Holidays are a time of parties and pressures, of frenzied schedules and frazzled nerves. Make time for exercise — a great pick-me-up. Go easy on alcoholic beverages. Eat nourishing, light meals.

Avoid Over-Doing It
Feelings of loss will probably leave you fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Lower your expectations for now. Don’t feel obligated to do all the cleaning, baking and decorating you might have done in the past. Set limitations.

Plan Ahead
Decide the family traditions you want to continue, and add new ones after the death of someone loved. Structure your holiday time. This will help you to anticipate activities, rather than just reacting to whatever happens.

Do What is Right For You During the Holidays
Well-meaning friends and family often try to prescribe what is good for you during the holidays. Instead of going along with their plans, focus on what you personally want to do.

Embrace Your Treasure of Memories
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. Holidays always make you think about times past. Instead of ignoring these memories, share happy remembrances with your family and friends.

If you feel that the upcoming holiday season will be very difficult for you to manage emotionally, ask your family funeral director for the name of a local bereavement counselor who can help you.

Community Hospice sponsors special holiday grief recovery programs. Check with your local Hospice for a schedule of these support sessions which are usually free of charge.

Remember the words of Helen Keller:

What we have once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.

Avoid Being the Victim of a Crime While Grieving

Avoid Being the Victim of a Crime While Grieving

On behalf of members of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police and the New York State Funeral Directors Association we extend both our deepest sympathy for your recent loss and our sincere hope that you find comfort from your family and friends during this time of grief.

Our two organizations have teamed up to prepare this crime prevention article to help reduce the chances of you or your family being victims of a crime of opportunity.

Our goal is to inform you of some unfortunate events that have occurred during times when people are overcome with grief and preoccupied with major family decisions.

From a law enforcement perspective, criminal acts can usually be divided into two specific categories; those that stem from an emotional involvement between individuals and those that can be described as “crimes of opportunity.”

Law enforcement officers have identified the three components necessary for crimes of opportunity to be committed. They are intentability and opportunity.

If any of these three components are missing the crime simply does not occur.

If the criminal has the ability and the intent to commit the crime, the only way you can prevent becoming a victim is by eliminating the opportunity.

What Can You Do to Avoid Becoming a Victim?

  • In the obituary columns of most newspapers, information such as name and community of surviving members, times and locations of the funeral arrangements are listed.  That practice, although helpful to the reader, sometimes creates additional vulnerability for family members.
  • Ask a trusted friend to stay at home during times you will be attending funeral events. If no one is available, consider asking one of your neighbors. In many cases they are looking for something that they can do to help you during this time.
  • Do not leave valuables in your vehicle while you are at a funeral.
  • Set your interior lights to operate on a timer. You may also want to leave a radio or television playing just loud enough to be heard from outside your home.
  • Leave your car parked in the driveway and ride with someone to the funeral events.
  • Do not stop mail or newspaper deliveries. Ask a neighbor to gather the mail in your absence.

Telephone answering machines can be effective crime prevention tools. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Use it to screen your calls.  Pick up the phone after you recognize the caller’s voice.
  • If you are a female living alone, consider having a male voice record your message. A dog barking in the background of the recorded message may also be an effective deterrent.
  • Use “We” instead of “I” on your recorded message.
  • Avoid telling the caller you are not home now. That enhances the chance of your home being entered.

Avoid Scams Targeting the Bereaved

  • Criminals often target families who have recently lost a loved one. Be careful not to become too trusting of strangers. There are countless cases where confidence scams and swindles are perpetuated against trusting people during these emotional times.
  • One of the most effective crime prevention techniques involves slowing the process down. Asking specific questions and having another family member or friend involved in decision-making is essential.
  • Never provide personal information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, etc., to anyone calling on the telephone, via the Internet or through unsolicited mail.
  • Never pay bills on behalf of the deceased unless you can verify the transaction actually took place. Bogus invoices are often sent to the home of the deceased assuming that the individual handling the estate will simply write a check.
  • Never answer questions from strangers calling on the telephone claiming to be doing genealogy research or verifying information printed on a birth or death certificate. Identity thieves can use this to perpetrate crimes.
  • Never allow home improvement contractors into your home to begin a project that they claim was contracted/initiated by your loved one prior to their death.
  • Never open your home to coin/stamp collectors or estate sales representatives offering to do a free appraisal of the deceased’s valuables. Reputable businesses will never “cold call” prospective clients during these times

If you have questions or concerns, the members of your local law enforcement agency or your funeral director stand ready and willing to assist you.

Prepared by the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc., (518.355.3371) and the New York State Funeral Directors Association, Inc., 518.452.8230

Adapted with permission from the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association

Signs You May Need Extra Help with Your Grief

Signs You May Need Extra Help with Your Grief

Grief is a normal reaction to the death of a loved one but most of us are not prepared to deal with our grief. We are often frightened and upset by our reactions to the death and wonder if we will ever recover from this overwhelming emotion.

Bereavement counselors caution that grief has no timetable but often takes longer than the bereaved or the people in their lives expect.

Many counselors recommend asking for and accepting help from an expert in loss and bereavement issues if any of the following experiences are intense or continue for a long period of time:

  • Are you always irritable, annoyed, intolerant or angry?
  • Do you experience an on-going sense of numbness or the feeling of being isolated from your own self or from others? Do you usually feel that you have no one to talk to about what happened?
  • Since your loved one died, are you often highly anxious about your own death or the death of someone you love? Is it beginning to interfere with your relationships, your ability to concentrate or live as you would like to live?
  • Do you feel that you are always or continually preoccupied with your loved one, his or her death, or certain aspects of it even though it’s been several months since his or her death?
  • Do you usually feel restless or in “high gear”? Do you feel the need to be continually busy beyond what is normal for you?
  • Are you afraid of becoming close to new people for fear of losing again?
  • Do you find yourself acting in ways that might prove harmful to you over time: drinking more than you used to, using more prescription or non-prescription drugs, engaging in sexual activity that is unsafe or unwise, driving in a reckless or unsafe manner or entertaining serious thoughts about suicide?
  • Are you taking on too much responsibility for surviving family members or close friends? If you’re feeling heavily burdened by this responsibility, angry or that the situation is “suffocating” you, it might be time to speak with someone.
  • Do your grief reactions continue over time to be limited in some way? Are you experiencing only a few of the reactions or emotions that usually come with grief? Are you unable to express your thoughts or feelings about your loved one and his or her death in words or in actions?
  • Is there some aspect of what you’re experiencing that makes you wonder if you’re normal or going crazy? Do you feel stuck in your grief in some way, unable to move on, even though it’s been some time since your loved one’s death?

Beyond these ten signs, trust your own judgment. If you think that talking to a professional might help, there are many resources available to you.

The Community Hospice, located in many areas throughout New York State, offers bereavement counseling and support sessions.

You can ask your family funeral director for the name of a local bereavement counselor who can help you.

Remember, be patient with yourself. People have a natural inclination to recover. But, if your grief is taking over your life, it is time to seek help.

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