Posts Tagged ‘death’

Sometimes we don’t have time during the work day to get to the important things. . .

I had a friend ask me about grief and co-workers and then the phone rang so I didn’t get to answer her.

I have to say, as an aside, that I love being the go-to-person for grief.  Yes, if you have read this blog, you know it is a passion of mine.

But anyway, this is kind of how it started off. . .

“So Jen Jen (note:  don’t ever call me Jen Jen . . . this one person is the ONLY person in the world that it’s okay from because the alternative was worse), I wanna ask you about grief. . . I’ve sent emails, left cards, said something in person.  .  . but what’s the best thing to do?  I don’t want to make someone cry at work. . . Personally, I hate crying and I don’t want anyone to feel bad. . . what should I do?”

I thought it was a great question, minus the Jen Jen…. but that’s another post.  LOL

So seriously. . . what do you do?

Here is my answer to this situation:

We don’t make anyone cry.  We don’t cause anyone to be bereaved.

We hurt no one by letting them know we care.

We can invite someone to get in touch with their grief, if they choose.

What most people don’t get is that the bereft are, please pardon the pun, “dying to tell their story”.

They want to hear that person’s name.

They want to share.

Well, most do.

There are some who are shut off or shut down and they will let you know.

But what I have learned over the years through others and through my own journey, is that people want to share their stories.  

Think about wearing your pink ribbon or your Livestrong bracelet.  They beg for dialogue.

Still don’t believe it?  Google grief or look around on WordPress. . . there are at least a dozen blogs of people sharing their stories of loss and healing and struggle. . .

When I was in TN, I wore my red ribbon every day.  I had no problem telling strangers that my brother died of AIDS.  Or that I had worked with AIDS patients.

Did you have a mom or a favorite aunt die of breast cancer?  Is that why you wear your pink ribbon?  Do you share her story or your story with her?

We want to connect.

We want to remember.  We often feel broken. . . we want to be re-membered. . .

We are in touch with that person, engaging their “spirit” and that very noble part of us that is not bereft but it and will always be connected with the person who died.

So in the workplace, let someone know you care.  It’s okay.  I don’t know of anyone who has ever been upset that someone showed a little kindness at work. . . and in some workplaces, it might be the only kindness that if offered.

If you are unsure, be discreet.  You don’t have to do it at the water cooler or in the middle of a staff meeting, but you can stop by someone’s cubicle or office.

Let them know if you are open to talking.  Be prepared to listen and not share your own stories; early grief usually dictates that it is their story that is important and again, if they are like most of us, their story is on their mind.

They may be foggy or scattered and even if they like you and care about you, they may be “full” and can’t really attend to you or your feelings/story.

So let them know if they can email or call you outside work.  Let them know that you are open for coffee, if they are interested.  But don’t if it is only politeness.  If you put it out there, expect that they will take you up, even if they don’t.

What I have never found to be helpful?

Ignoring the loss.

Telling someone you know just how they feel.

Going into a running dialogue about your own losses.

Telling them that the person who died is better off. . . even if you believe that. . .because (and I have to be frank here… ) most people would gladly have the person back in bad condition than to be without them.  It seems counter intuitive, but it’s true.  

Don’t tell them that time will heal.  We want it better right now or we want the person back.  Heck, we want both, right now.

I will never forget pulling out of the gas station, my first day back from driving to work after my mentor died.  I think I said, out loud in the car, “what’s wrong with these people?  Don’t they get that the most important person on the planet is gone?”  Unfortunately, 10 days later, the world was right there with me, as we sat in horror . . . watching the twin towers implode.

That week, I knew that people got how I was feeling.  I didn’t know anyone who was not touched some how and it made my own loss a bit more bearable that the whole world was grieving and at the same time, it didn’t matter.

We are forever touched by the people who come into our lives. . . even if I never meet Ben over at http://bennaga.wordpress.com/  but his poetry often moves me or Wendy at http://meaningfulwesternlife.com/ whose blog reminds me of the benefits of MBSR ,  Lou over at http://talesfromthelou.wordpress.com/ who is a warrior for telling the truth no matter what,  or Marty http://ptsdawayout.com/ who shares everything he knows about mindfulness who healing hearts and brains of people with PTSD, or William at http://fiercebuddhist.org/ who inspires me to try my hand at haiku or http://mindmindful.wordpress.com/ where I find a little different perspective on all things mindful,  but my life has been touched by their blogs, by their kindness, by them showing me the ropes and answering my questions.  I would be sad if I could not check in with their daily tales and insights.

And yet these are people who I do not know.  People who have not broken bread with me, shared sorrows and joys.   But I want to share their work with you.

Can you imagine how much I want to share the wise words of my former mentor or the love that I have for my grandfather or brother?

So if you still have any doubts about offering condolences, ask yourself, if someone I cared about was gone, what would I want?  (Remember when Seinfeld or Friends went off the air?  You wanted to talk about it, right?… )

What would you yearning for when you were without a person that you loved dearly?

Hopefully that answer will sink deeper than my words.

Peace, Jennifer

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Here is a link to a quick post to remind you that children are often called “the forgotten mourners”.

Kids don’t grieve like little adults.

They don’t have the same coping skills or life experience.

Kids don’t sit down and talk about grief the way you or I might.

Kids learn through repetition.

They communicate through play.

They use all of their senses more often to understand.

They are often more concrete thinkers than adults.

But they do love and grieve. . . and I’ve never been more sure of anything else in the world.

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“Don’t grieve.
Anything you lose comes
round in another form.”

 I would SO love to tell you, “Yeah, don’t grieve.  It’s not spiritually necessary or enlightened.  We are transcendent beings. . . ”


Most of us are not there and many give lip service to those kinds of messages if we are honest with ourselves.

We hurt when we lose something.

We really hurt when we lose someone.

We have deep connections with the person we loved who died.

They co-create our world with us.

Sometimes they gave life to us (or we to them) and then we created a history, a storyline, a relationship, a family, a network of friends, etc.

We derive meaning and pleasure from our connection.

We sometimes sustain wounds and hardships in those relationships as well.

But they (the person and our experiences with them) are as much a part of us as our arm or leg and there is pain when someone dies as there is when we sustain a physical injury.

What I have come to learn, through my experience and the experience of those around me, is when we acknowledge the presence of the pain, (the upheaval, and the sense of being distraught) and can hold it in our awareness, even if for moments, healing occurs.

We do more harm, expend more energy, and suffer longer when we disavow the pain.

I think we can get to a place of understanding that others really “never leave us” because we get in touch with our interconnectedness with them.  But when we don’t touch the pain and allow it to be, it is harder to connect with more transcendent concepts.

This is one of the reasons why practices like mindfulness are beneficial to our “grief work.”  The practice teaches us to be present, moment to moment, and to accept rather than to fight off.

We then have the energy to live with what “is” and to have compassion for the situation as it presents itself.

So, I don’t think we need to throw ideas like Rumi’s out altogether.  I think we just need to practice a lot of compassion on the way to having a lived-bodily experience of what it truly means.

And without that experience, those words can be hurtful and harmful to someone who is still defending from their pain.

~~As a side note, today is my dad’s birthday!  I can’t be with him today but I am NEVER far away from my thoughts and heart.  Happy Birthday Daddy!  Thank you for all of these decades of love, support, and lessons.



For more information about learning to allow pain and sorrow, check out Stephen Levine‘s work Unattended Sorrow or The Grief Process CD/Audio.

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6/6/12  Update:  Wendy, I have not forgotten you… Please forgive me.  Being sick, I have not had the ability to sit down and really give your post the time it deserves.  Know that I have Friday off from my day job and will be working on this and posting as soon as I can.

Sorry, Jennifer

“Hi there, you have been a bright spot in my blogging life.  I think the work you are doing and what you share is extremely valuable.  Just this week I heard of a situation that is way beyond my ability to help — a mother’s 23 year old daughter [commited] suicide, even though she had been getting counseling help.

I just wondered if you had any posts dealing with suicide?  I searched but don’t think I found anything.

Perhaps this is something you can post about in the near future.  It would be really helpful.
Thank you so much and have a wonderful day, Wendy.”


Dear Wendy,

Your words touch me and honor me greatly.

You are correct.  I have not posted anything on suicide as of yet.

I added your comment here though because I hope that if people have needs to be met, like yours here, that they ask.  The worst that can happen is that a “no” can come as an answer… at best, two people connect on a heart, mind, and soul level and wisdom is shared.

I will definitely work on something for you and post it here.

Please know that this is not my area of speciality but I can talk about some practices and some things I do know.

What a loving heart you have to want to know more and that you have been so touched by this very sad loss.

I will be back from my retreat soon and will work on something when I can.

Until then, many blessings to you and to all those who have suffered or are suffering loss.

Metta, Jennifer

PS, for those of you who don’t know… this is a bit of “trivia” if you will.  One thing I have learned as a caregiver to the dying and bereft is that to say committed suicide, you frame things in a legal sense… like you commit a felony or robbery.  We often say that a person has suicided or has completed suicide when talking with families so that we are more aware of the distinction and we give honor to the totality of the experience.  I did not know this until I was researching and planning a suicide survivor group… thought I would pass that on to all…

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“You cannot go into the room where someone is dying

and not pay attention.  Everything is

pulling you into the moment.”  ~~ Frank Ostaseki

In 1987, Frank Ostaseski helped form the Zen Hospice Project, the first Buddhist hospice in America. In 2004, he created Metta Institute to broaden this work and seed the culture with innovative approaches to end-of-life care that reaffirm the spiritual dimensions of dying.

I love listening to his 3 tape series entitled, Being a Compassionate Companion.  It has so much heart and he conveys the teachings of the Buddhist Path and the hospice experience in such a natural, gentle way.

In these three tapes, Frank gives guidance and explains these important teachings for cultivating a compassionate presence at the bedside:

Over the next few days, I will be sharing more about each of these precepts (teachings).

I hope that I can share what I learned from Frank and from working at hospice.  Most importantly, I hope that when you encounter another person, you learn to take a deep breath and settle in and truly open yourself to the experience.

More to come.

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Atisha with Twenty-eight of the Eighty-four Ma...

Atisha with Twenty-eight of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

I had a client that had major complications after a surgery that was supposed to be “routine”.  Multiple systems shutting down and getting restored which shut down other systems, etc.  It was like a negative feedback loop for a while.

We were sure that she was going to die.  I was totally convinced.  I was the hospice expert, I knew these things.

Well, not really.

I just am more okay with dying taken place when it may be the ultimate healing experience for that person.

But with today’s medical technology, we can sometimes sustain someone well beyond what nature may have had in mind and give them a chance they would have never had before now.

That, however, is not my experience, but it does happen.

My “for sure” was no match for crazy (or what I thought was crazy) medical and scientific intervention.  And she lived on.

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

Yet, I remember someone I knew telling me that his mother had gone into the hospital for something acute and the family was told that she was riddled with cancer.

There was an emergency that sent her to the hospital.

She was diagnosed.

The family was trying to make sense out of what was happening that night; trying to wrap their minds around it.

She died the next morning… not from the cancer and not from the acute crisis.

As one of the other Contemplations states, we do not have control over when and how our death will ultimately come.

How many times have you heard, “She was the picture of health”?  That was the case with my mentor who died.  Running 5 miles every morning, yoga, healthy eating, great relationships, ideal jobs for her, etc.

Or how many times have you heard, “He smoked cigars since the age of 12 and his mom fed him lard” and he died when he was 97?

We have no fixed time or fixed amount of breaths that we will take.

We do not know if it will be right now, tonight, tomorrow, or in ten years.

And yet, we live like it we have been granted this fragile life forever.

Everyone we have ever known to die, whether a beloved grandfather or a teen idol, has not lived forever and has had that unexpected time come.

Why do we think that we are exempt and will be the one person to make it out of life alive?

And how many of us take so much for granted because deep down inside, we really believe that we’ll be that one?

How long will you suffer with what is before you create the life you want before it’s too late?

How many times will you walk away angry and not say I love you before you are left with the guilt of having not done that very thing?

I ask these questions, not just of you, but of myself?

Will I learn this time?

Will I be more present, more proactive, more loving, more compassionate, etc?

Your life span, (and my life span) like that of all living beings, is not fixed.

With that knowledge, can we learn to embrace it, in a lived, total way, and create the life that we want because we became active agents during the moments we do have here on earth?

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By Doug Smith, MDiv.

“When we label some deaths right,

and other deaths become wrong.

When we label some deaths good,

and other deaths become bad.

Living and dying create each other.

The easy way and the difficult way are


The long life and the short life are relative.

The first days and the last days accompany each other.

Therefore, the true caregiver of the dying does all

that needs to be done without asserting herself,

and saying all that needs to be said without

saying anything.

Things happen, and she allows them to happen.

Things fail to happen, and she allows them to fail

to happen.

She is always there, but it is as though she is not there.

She realizes that she does nothing,

yet all that needs to be done is done.

In letting go,

there is gain.

In giving up,

there is advancement.

Don’t practice controlling.

Practice allowing.

Such is the mystery of happiness.

Such is the mystery of wealth.

Such is the mystery of power.

Such is the mystery of living and dying.

Excerpt from:  Caregiving:  Hospice-proven Techniques for Healing Body and Soul.

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