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Why You May Never Heal

In Kubler-Ross’ model of grief process, she listed five stages of grief:





and acceptance.

In this process of grief, Kubler-Ross assumed that throughout the whole grief process, the bereaved should be experiencing what Freud called “decathexis”, which is a removal of emotional energy from the deceased; a detachment. Freud then suggested that during and after “decathexis” we will take those emotional energies and reinvest them into another object or person in a process called “recathexis.” Essentially, we find other people to love … and use them to fill the “love hole” left by the deceased.

The assumption to both Freud and Kubler-Ross’ model is that the end of the grief process (healing, acceptance) is a form of detachment from the deceased.

But, I think they’re wrong.

Anna Lamott writes,

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

Instead of saying that the end of the grief process is detachment and healing, I think we should say that the healthy end of the grief process is adjustment. It’s adjusting to the fact that your loved one is no longer here to share life experiences with you. It’s adjusting to the loss of the future, but there’s never a detachment from the past.

We simply have on-going bonds with the deceased. They will forever be apart of us and instead of trying to “heal” and find “decathexis” (although I don’t think Freud’s idea is categorically wrong), we must learn to adjust and dance with our limp.

Over time, you will learn to adjust to the death of a loved one. A part of you has been lost and you will never find it again, so you must learn to live without it. But, don’t confuse your adjustment for healing. You may never heal.

This from Jandy Nelson over the loss of her sister, Bailey:

“My sister will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. 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.”

Maybe the reason we never heal is because our love never dies.

Worst Funeral Home Names Ever

Which funeral home wins the title of “Worst Funeral Home Name Ever?”

(If you’re having trouble seeing a picture, click it and it will enlarge.)

More Info on “The Most Beautiful Gravestone I’ve Ever Seen”

Last Friday, I posted this photo on my Confessions of a Funeral Director Facebook Page.

Since I posted it, over 2,000,000 people have viewed it.

Many have asked, “Where is this gravestone located?”  “Who is the gravestone for?”  And various other questions.

Here’s Matthew Stanford Robison’s “Find a Grave” page that will answer most of your questions:

Birth: Sep. 23, 1988
Death: Feb. 21, 1999

This unique monument shows the young boy jumping upward, out of his wheelchair. Confined to the chair most of his young life, he is now free of earthly burdens.

“And then it shall come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” Peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, February 21, 1999, our cherished son, brother and friend, Matthew Stanford Robison was received into a state of happiness, and began his rest from troubles, care, and sorrow in the arms of his Savior and friend Jesus Christ.

Matthew was a joy and inspiration to all who were privileged to know him. He was a testament to the supreme divinity of the soul and an embodiment of the completeness our spirits yearn for. The godliness of his soul inspired, influenced and blessed all who knew him. He came into this world as a miracle and left this world as a miracle.

Born with severe earthly disabilities on September 23, 1988 in Salt Lake City to Johanna (Anneke) Dame Robison and Ernest Parker Robison. At birth, Matthew’s life expectancy was anticipated to be only hours long. However, fortitude, strength, and endurance, combined with the power of God allowed Matthew to live ten and one-half years enveloped in the love of his family and friends. His family was privileged to spend time with him here upon earth, to learn from his courage and marvel at his constant joy and happiness in the face of struggle. His family will be eternally changed by his presence and temporally changed by his passing. His presence inspired all those who knew him. He opened their hearts as well as their eyes.

He is survived by his parents: Ernest and Anneke; sisters and brothers, Korrin, Marc, Jared, and Emily of Murray, Utah, and Elizabeth (Czech Prague Mission) Also, grandparents and other family members. A heartfelt thanks to his special care givers, especially Shauna Langford, and others at Liberty Elementary School.

Salt Lake City Cemetery
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake County
Utah, USA

Here is part of Matthew’s obituary:

When Our Memories Smell Like Us

Four months after Newtown, People magazine has published a series called, “Life After Newtown Shootings” where the parents describe their grief and how they are coping.  It’s a beautiful series and well-worth your time and the three dollar Kleenex box that you’ll go through.

One of the parents mentions that she still sleeps with her son’s pajamas so that she can be soothed by “his smell.”  Certainly, considering the tragedy of Newtown, there is nothing abnormal about her practice.  In fact, it’s healthy and I can’t help but feel the heaviness of her grief as I think about it.

Here’s a question: A what point has her son’s smell disappeared and what she thinks is her son’s smell is actually her own smell.  At what point in sleeping with his pajamas have they stopped smelling like her son and started to smell like her?

At funerals, you’ll often hear people say, “Cathy lives on in all of our memories” or, “Cathy will never die as longs as we remember her.”

There’s a difficulty that comes with remembering our loved one.

I remember an old man, who was married to his late wife for over 50 years, stopped into funeral home to pay his bill and he said, “I both grieve the loss of my wife and the distortion of my memories of her.  Even now, when I remember her, I ask myself, “Is this memory real or is it my mind’s adaptation of her?  I only want to remember the good, but I miss the bad and messy nearly as much because it’s who she was.”

There’s a time when the smell on the pajamas becomes our own.  There’s a time when memories are distorted by our desires for comfort.  But, this is why we must grieve in community … so that community can help us piece together the real.

Grief must take place in community!  We have to share, we have to be vulnerable with our friends and family.

Share at your family dinners … over the holidays.

Be brave an ask your parents old friends about mom/dad.  Ask your child’s friends … your spouse’s co-workers.

Have people write down their memories.

Talk.  Talk. Talk.  Talk about your deceased loved one.  Don’t let the memories die.  Don’t let them become distorted.

“They’ll Be Happy”

Says my grandfather as he looks at the handsome face of a 13 year old boy lying motionless on our stretcher.

The last time the family saw him was a couple days before Easter.

Now, a day removed from Easter, they will view the body of their son one final time before he’s taken to the crematory.

Mothers dread walking into their son’s room and finding their boy making out with a girl.  They don’t look forward to walking into their son’s room and finding them with cigarette in hand.

But few mothers have experienced this: walking into your son’s room to find him lying on the floor with his face distorted and discolored from livor mortis.  It was a heart problem that the doctors said was under the control of proper medication.
The mother came through the funeral home door with a laugh, trailed by her husband (the father), their son and a couple friends.

They couldn’t have done this alone.  “Thank God for the blessings of friends and family” I think to myself.

Those laughs are now tears as they cut some of the locks of his hair and place them neatly in our small keepsake bags.  My dad walks past me and says, “Hardest thing I have to see today.”  That after he embalmed a 47 year old cancer patient in the morning and then held the hand of the cancer patient’s wife while she made arrangements.


10 minutes pass.


Tears communicate instead of their words.

“He looks so good”, one of them says.

We wait, feeling the temperature of the room with that empathy sense that funeral directors develop.

We’ve done what we can to remove the livor, leaving his facial skin looking like that of a china doll.  And once they begin walking away from the stretcher, the laughter begins again.

I start an internal dialogue as I attempt to understand the contrast of tears and laughter:

“It’s got to be unhealthy for them to be laughing.”

“Maybe, but how would you feel when the last time you saw your son’s face it was discolored?”

“But this is so unnatural!  The whole thing … the death itself, the way they found him and now … laughter?!?”

“Imagine all the darkness they’ve seen … and now this little glimmer of light … small as it may be … they can see their son one last time the way they remember him.  Something as simple as his cleared up skin may be the brightest thought they’ve had for days.  Let them laugh now … there will be plenty of crying to do later.

And with that I consoled myself; reassuring myself that when a child dies, sometimes, somehow … it can be natural for parents to leave the funeral home happy.


As with all my post, circumstances have been changed and rearranged so as to protect the privacy of this family.

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