Guest Posts

On Keeping Death Always Before Our Eyes

Today’s guest post is written by Micha Boyett.

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I have this joke with my husband about who he’ll be allowed to marry if I die: Heidi Klum, of course. I want him to achieve all his life dreams.

Sometimes we laugh over which of his three brothers I would marry if we lived in Biblical Old Testament days and I was forced to carry on his bloodline (of course I would only get to choose between brothers because I’m making up the rules). I refuse to comment on which one I’ve chosen. I’ll let them arm wrestle for the prize.

The point is, we talk about dying sometimes. And we should. I don’t want it to be some taboo topic between the two of us. As a mom of two, it’s almost impossible for me to not think about the impermanence of all this life around me. My kids are growing at a rate I cannot believe. My oldest son is somehow almost six years old, and I feel the loss of his babyhood in the deepest parts of me. I have lost his infant-giggle, his chunky body, his cuddles, his toddler mind. Now, he is an almost-graduated Kindergartener with Kindergarten-sized friendship troubles, secrets, and frustrations that I can’t completely understand. He’s also learning to read and discovering his passion for science and nature. He’s developing a conscience of his own, working hard to persuade his parents that our love for eating meat is harmful to the Nature he loves.

In short, this is the story of every human on the planet. We live and grow and, one day, leave the care and nurture of our parents. It’s beautiful and it’s tragic. For every thing gained, another is lost. This is the work of Time: A Planet Earth whirling in its spot in the universe—day and night, day and night—bringing us to one another and removing us from one another. My son is growing up. I am losing him and gaining him—his real self—which, heartbreakingly for his mother, is separate from me.

As a person of faith, I first discovered the writings of St. Benedict because I was struggling with this notion of Time. I was a new mom, already feeling the simultaneous devastation and joy of motherhood. And I was also an anxious American, with a calendar packed full of stuff I ought to do and was failing to accomplish. When was I supposed to exercise/read/have a spiritual life when my kid was demanding me at all moments? I’d read somewhere that the Benedictine monks believe that there always “enough time in each day” and I wondered what that could possibly mean. (And I hoped they would give me some magic secret to getting control of my wild life.)

As I studied St. Benedict’s 6th Century notions of community and prayer, I came to an instruction that has remained with me, these years later. Benedict reminded his monks that they should live in such a way that they, “Keep the reality of death always before [their] eyes.”

What does it mean to live that way? Not with some morbid death obsession, but to notice that this moment—here, right now—is a gift? Everything is passing, and that reality is both beautiful and devastating. Somehow, the fact that we are always in the process of losing each other allows us, if we let it, to love more deeply. Recognizing our coming-death teaches us to cling to the life we’ve been given.

I’m not really sure what it means to live with the reality of death always before me, but I think it has something to do with gratefulness, with awareness. And I think that’s where prayer—however we define it—begins: in the place where we pay attention, see the people around us with compassion, and hold both death and life in the same tender hand.

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Micha (pronounced “MY-cah”) Boyett is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet. Her first book, Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer releases today. A born and raised Texan, Micha lives in San Francisco with her husband, Chris, and their two sons. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and at michaboyett.com.

 

 

When My Son Confessed to Murder

Today’s guest post is written by Tim Kreider:

 

I had thought I had found a path to healing and wholeness, but then, in May of 2007, one of my oldest son’s best friends and his parents were murdered in their home. It was a gruesome crime that instilled fear into our home and the entire community. Nothing was stolen. There were no clues and no leads.

Approximately 30 days later my oldest son, who was 16 at the time, was admitted to a local mental health facility because of threats of suicide. I feared the loss of his friend had been too much for him. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning.

1092During a family counseling session my son confessed to his mother and me that he was the one responsible for the death or his friend and his parents! Thus began the darkest and most devastating period of my life. The wholeness I thought I had obtained was shattered into a life consumed by pain and brokenness. There was a time when I thought I would drown in the wave of despair that washed over me.

Fortunately, I was eventually able to rise above the despair and find my way to healing and wholeness. This doesn’t mean I’m perfect and never have a “bad” day. I’m human. Events and people sometimes chip away at me. I have moments where I feel sad or down. I get angry at things I know shouldn’t bother me. I say things that shouldn’t be said.

But I respond totally differently today. I don’t stay there. The peace and joy I’ve found soon return. I recognize when my past hurt and brokenness rears its ugly head and I now am able to acknowledge it, respond to it and not allow it to derail my day, my relationships, my life and ultimately the joy I’ve found in life.

I believe that if I can do it, everyone can do the same thing. Their lives can be joyful. My intense conviction is that no one needs to be or deserves to be lost in the wasteland of pain and brokenness. If I can help just one person heal and become whole again, then I will have spared one person the continued pain of being hurt and broken. In doing so, I’ll improve not only their life but also the lives of everyone they touch. What a gift to bring to the world.

People ask me how did I do it? How did I find joy? How did I find a way to give myself permission to be happy again?

I wish I had an easy answer. I remember at one point in time asking a therapist, “Just tell me what to do to get better and I’ll do it.” He smiled and told me it doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple 1 -2 -3 step to healing and becoming whole. Each of us needs to find our own path.

We may need to change our view of the world. Is our view negative and angry or do we find the best in a situation and approach each “obstacle” with hope? How do we change our view of the world? Start by filling your mind and environment with positive words, books and people. This may sound harsh, but if it doesn’t lift you up, it tears you down. Remove what tears you down and replace it with what lifts you up. I’ve read many books by self-help gurus and spiritual leaders that reinforced positive and life-altering ways of thinking and approaching life.

I went to counseling, seeing a psychologist and having a safe place to be broken and honest was incredibly valuable. He helped me understand the process I was going through and how events and people in life influenced my attitudes and actions. It enabled me to respond differently and in a healthier fashion.

I realized the incredible liberation of forgiveness – accept God’s forgiveness given to you, no matter what you have done. Forgive yourself for all of the “mistakes” you have ever made. Forgive those who have “wronged” you – parents, siblings, spouses, co workers, leaders, strangers on the street – it doesn’t matter who – forgive – let go of the anger and the pain. It only damages you!

When I was asked to share my passion for healing and wholeness, the task seemed overwhelming to me. Our search for healing and wholeness has been a quest of mankind since the fall of Adam and Eve. There have been lives dedicated to this quest. Volumes and volumes of writings have attempted to show us the way. Jesus came, taught, died and rose to share with us how to become healed and whole. Yet we ALL remain hurt and broken.

Yes, everyone is hurt or broken in some way. You’re broken just like the rest of us. But that’s okay. There is always a way back to healing and wholeness.

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Tim Kreider is passionate about helping people find healing and wholeness. He shares his story at churches, businesses, youth groups and other gatherings, and he started a non-profit organization called Also-Me that encourages people not to live life alone. He lives in Womelsdorf, PA with his wife Lynn.
To read the entirety of Tim’s story and his path to healing, you can purchase his book, “Refuse to Drown”.  

 

Grief Online: The Dos and Don’ts of Internet Etiquette

Today’s guest post is written by Dr. Candi K. Cann

Everyone seems to be online these days, and even if you are not on much, odds are that you have a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr or Instagram account. With so much of our socializing done virtually, it is no surprise that we are grieving and mourning the deaths of our loved ones online too.

Here are a few Dos and Don’ts for grieving online.

• Don’t announce the death of someone online unless you are sure that the family, friends and anyone that should know about the death, knows already.

The most recent example of this was Wall Street Journal’s breaking news tweet on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. Both the death and the details of how he died were tweeted before his family was aware that he had died.

• Once everyone knows about the death, it is okay to post details about the funeral, wake, celebration of life ceremony online so that everyone knows, but please don’t create an Evite for it.

Evites are great for invitations — they are convenient and quick, but they shouldn’t be used in this case for three reasons:

1) They depend on the regular checking of email, and since funerals and memorials are generally held somewhat quickly, those invited may not get the email in time.
2) Evites sometimes land in the invitee’s junk folder, which means they won’t receive them, and funerals and memorials are meant to be open to anyone the deceased knew.
3) Evites are only for those that receive an invitation.

• If someone is posting a picture of themselves with the deceased, they are doing so to let you know they are grieving, so don’t write snarky comments on that picture.

Don’t do it. Just don’t. It isn’t the right time or place.

279• If a family decides to leave a Facebook page active, a Twitter feed open, or an Instagram account on so that you can write comments, post messages, etc., please think about your audience.

Yes, we know you were Tom’s last serious girlfriend before his marriage, and probably the reason he finally got his act together to be able to commit to his wife and have children, but that doesn’t mean you should post old love letters or pictures to his webpage. His wife and all the rest of his family just won’t find it appropriate, and it might make their grief worse.

And yes, your position as ex-girlfriend means that you have a right to grieve, and that there is really no place for you to do so, but you will need to stick to your group of girlfriends, or maybe on your own private social media. While the Internet is awesome for giving everyone a voice, sometimes we need to think about our audience.

• Don’t write negative things about the dead.

Yes, your neighbor was a jerk, but if you didn’t say it to his face before he died, then it’s too late now. If you did, then he already knows how you feel, and there’s just no point in making his family and friends feel worse.

• Along those lines, don’t say anything negative about the living posting about the dead.

Yes, we are all getting tired of Katie’s sappy (and badly written, I might add) poems that she keeps writing and posting to her deceased best friend’s page, but please don’t say anything. Remember the old adage — if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all? Well, remember it. Or at least, if you must say something that’s not nice, then say it to a close friend who has never met Katie. That way you can be sure Katie won’t find out.

And last, but not least, those funeral selfies.

• If you insist on taking a funeral selfie, try to keep the dead out of the pictures.

There’s a reason some people don’t go to wakes or funerals — they simply don’t know what to do with that open casket. Or maybe they want their last memory of Grandma to be a living one. If you must take a funeral selfie, please make sure there are no glimpses of Grandma in her casket. It’s bad enough we have to see pictures of your cute cat five times a day, we really don’t want to see your dead grandmother before we’ve even had our morning coffee.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Candi K. Cann received both her A.M. and Ph.D. in Comparative Religion from Harvard University, and her research focuses on death and dying, and the impact of remembering (and forgetting) in shaping how lives are recalled, remembered and celebrated. An avid reader, traveler, and lover of poetry, her passions are spending time with her family and friends and living well.

You can follow Candi on Twitter and pre-order her upcoming book, Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century.  

Funeral Options

Today’s guest post is written by Patricia Fitchett.

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The funeral home that I work for is a big proponent of personalization. We even have the word “Options” right in our title. I have found from working in the funeral business for over 13 years that no funeral is exactly the same as another. Even if you use the same location, or the same officiant or the same prayers or readings, each person who is being honored/memorialized is a huge influence on the proceedings.

The best comment we get to hear is “It was exactly what he or she would have wanted!” (except of course in those situations where the LAST thing he or she would have wanted was to be dead.) It is a real pleasure to be able to help families make choices that make the service for their family member special and unique. That being said, we are often called upon to be the “bad taste police”; pointing out when an idea may not have the intended effect.

Let me give you an example. We’ve all heard Sarah McLachlan’s “In The Arms Of The Angels” song on the commercial where sad shelter dogs with their piteous eyes beg for a loving home. The song is beautiful and haunting and I have had people request it at funerals. From the snippet that you hear in the commercial, it sounds like it would be the perfect choice. But if you look a little farther into the lyrics you find phrases like this one: “everywhere you turn, there’s vultures and thieves at your back, and the storm keeps on twisting, you keep on building the lies that you make up for all that you lack”. Not really the heartwarming option that it seemed originally.

Another example is the song “Stairway To Heaven”. Although people of a certain age love this tune and it holds a special place in our hearts and minds, it is an exceedingly bad choice for a memorial service. Not only will your grandmother hate it, but she will hate it for about seven minutes (an eternity in “sitting in silence at a funeral while recorded music plays” time). The lyrics themselves do nothing to ameliorate the eternity spent listening to the uncut version and unless your loved one was actually killed by “finding a bustle in his or her hedgerow and becoming alarmed”, do not make this tune one of your options.

The funeral home that I work for is known for holding funeral services in places that are not a funeral home. For a lot of people it is their church. Some people don’t want a church at all, and we have been able to find several lovely options (most notably the KemperCenter) where people can be comfortable holding a memorable, elegant, personal service.

922Some folks though are looking for an even more personal option. For some of these families, we have to think way outside the box. We have held services around a favorite tree in someone’s back yard. We have scattered cremated remains at Lake Michigan and on the 13th hole of a golf course where the deceased made a hole in one. (I will never tell which golf course though. I don’t think they really like that. Let’s just say that the sand trap may contain a cup of something that is not sand.)

As far as location “don’ts” go, I would tell people who want to hold services at a tavern to have the speaking part take place sooner rather than later in relation to the drinking part. Enough said…..

By far the most interesting location was chosen by a family we served last year. The gentleman had gone into the hospital while renovations were being made on the shed attached to the barn at his beloved farm. The man died before he could see the work finished. His family held his funeral (complete with casket) in the family’s barn.

The man’s family cleaned the barn and decorated it with all sort of wild flowers and plants from the property. Only his immediate family was in attendance. His children and grandchildren spoke and I sang his favorite hymns. It was a beautiful service and there was an unmistakable rightness to the location that I wouldn’t have thought was possible.

Options? Ask for them by name.

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Patti Fitchett is an Apprentice Funeral Director with Casey Family Options Funerals and Cremations of Racine Wisconsin. Patti came to the funeral business as a lay minister and found an affinity for being of service to the families of Southeastern Wisconsin.

15 Things I Wish I’d Known About Grief

Today’s guest post is written by Teryn O’Brien:

After a year of grief, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also made some mistakes along the way. Today, I jotted down 15 things I wish I’d known about grief when I started my own process.

I pass this onto anyone on the journey.

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1. You will feel like the world has ended. I promise, it hasn’t. Life willgo on, slowly. A new normal will come, slowly.

2. No matter how bad a day feels, it is only a day.  When you go to sleep crying, you will wake up to a new day.

3. Grief comes in waves. You might be okay one hour, not okay the next. Okay one day, not okay the next day. Okay one month, not okay the next. Learn to go with the flow of what your heart and mind are feeling.

4. It’s okay to cry. Do it often. But it’s okay to laugh, too. Don’t feel guilty for feeling positive emotions even when dealing with loss.

5. Take care of yourself, even if you don’t feel like it. Eat healthily. Work out. Do the things you love. Remember that you are still living.

6. Don’t shut people out. Don’t cut yourself off from relationships. You will hurt yourself and others.

7. No one will respond perfectly to your grief. People–even people you love–will let you down. Friends you thought would be there won’t be there, and people you hardly know will reach out. Be prepared to give others grace. Be prepared to work through hurt and forgiveness at others’ reactions.

8. God will be there for you perfectly. He will never, ever let you down. He will let you scream, cry, and question. Throw all your emotions at Him. He is near to the brokenhearted.

9. Take time to truly remember the person you lost. Write about him or her, go back to all your memories with them, truly soak in all the good times you had with that person. It will help.

10. Facing the grief is better than running. Don’t hide from the pain. If you do, it will fester and grow and consume you.

11. You will ask “Why?” more times than you thought possible, but you may never get an answer. What helps is asking, “How? How can I live life more fully to honor my loved one? How can I love better, how can I embrace others, how can I change and grow because of this?” 

12. You will try to escape grief by getting busy, busy, busy. You will think that if you don’t think about it, it’ll just go away. This isn’t really true. Take time to process and heal.

13. Liquor, sex, drugs, hobbies, work, relationships, etc., will not take the pain away. If you are using anything to try and numb the pain, it will make things worse in the long run. Seek help if you’re dealing with the sorrow in unhealthy ways.

14. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to need people. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.

15. Grief can be beautiful and deep and profound. Don’t be afraid of it. Walk alongside it. You may be surprised at what grief can teach you.

What are things you’ve learned about grief that you wish you’d known when your loss first happened?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Teryn O’Brien works in marketing with various religious imprints of Penguin Random House. She spends her free time roaming the mountains of Colorado, writing a series of novels, and combating sex trafficking. She’s of Irish descent, which is probably where she gets her warrior spirit of fighting for the broken, the hurting, the underdog. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, or connect with her on Facebook.

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