Category Archives: Grief

How to write a eulogy

Princess Diana had the most publicized funeral in history. It was broadcast worldwide. The most powerful part was the eloquent and moving eulogy delivered by her brother, Charles Spencer. At one point he said, “I don’t think she ever understood why…there appeared to be a permanent quest on (the media’s) behalf to bring her down….Of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest is that a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.”

Great eulogies make great funerals. Of course, it’s absurd to think of a funeral as great, but some are memorable. Eulogies can be remarkable, moving experiences for speakers and audience members. You might assume eulogies are as common as flowers at memorial services. Unfortunately, this is not so. Not all families are able to find someone who is willing and able to write and deliver a eulogy. Some funerals go without; others rely on clergy who may not have known the deceased. The results can be disappointing.

None of us likes to contemplate the loss of a loved one or the call to duty to deliver a eulogy. Reading this article now, however, you will gain a brighter perspective on this task and discover the benefits of the writing process as a healing tool

What A Eulogy Should Accomplish

There are two common misconceptions about the purpose of a eulogy. Some people think 1) it should be an objective summation of the person’s life; or 2) the eulogy should speak for everyone who is present at the memorial service. These are unrealistic assumptions.

A eulogy is much more simple. Of course, it can include information about the person’s life, but primarily it should express the feelings and experiences of the person giving the eulogy vis-à-vis the loved one. The most touching and meaningful eulogies are subjective and written from the heart. Aeulogy does not have to be perfect. Whatever you write and deliver will be appreciated by the people in attendance. If you are inclined to be a perfectionist, lower your expectations and just do what you can, given the short time-frame for preparation and your fragile emotional state.

When you set out to write a eulogy, realize the burden does not have to be yours alone. Ask friends and relatives for their recollections and stories. In a eulogy, it is perfectly acceptable to say, for example, “I was talking to Uncle Lenny about Ron. He reminded me of the time Ron came to Thanksgiving dinner with half of his face clean-shaven and the other half fully-bearded. It was Ron’s unique way of showing he had mixed feelings about shaving off his beard.”

Be honest. For most people, there are a lot of positive qualities to talk about. Once in a while, however, a eulogy has to be given for someone with mostly negative traits. If that is the case, omission is the solution. A eulogy is not a confession. No one will find fault if you leave out negative details. Talk about positive qualities and, if you must mention the negative, try to put a compassionate spin on it. For example, “She struggled with her demons and they sometimes got the best of her.”

Tips For Delivering A Eulogy

A eulogy may be the most difficult speech you ever deliver, but it may also be the most rewarding. Calm yourself by realizing that people are not going to judge you. They will be very supportive. No matter what happens, it will be okay. If you need to cry in the middle of your speech, everyone will understand. Take a moment to compose yourself, then continue. Don’t be embarrassed. Remember, giving a eulogy is a noble gesture that people will appreciate, admire, and remember.

If you can, make the eulogy easy to read. On a computer, print out the eulogy in a large type size. If you are using a typewriter, put extra carriage returns between the lines. If you are writing by hand, print the final version in large letters and give the words room to breath by writing on every second or third line.

Before the memorial service, consider getting a cup of water. Keep it with you during the service. When you go to the podium, take the water in case you need it. Sipping water before you start-and during the speech, if needed-will help relax you.

Before delivering the eulogy, breath deeply and remind yourself that you are surrounded by loving friends and family. They are with you 100 percent. If you would find it easier, read the eulogy without looking up to make eye contact with the audience. Take your time. Do the best you can. Just be yourself.

Writing As Therapy

Writing in general-a eulogy, a letter, a journal-presents a valuable opportunity to discover a new therapeutic tool to help you deal with grief, sadness, ambivalence, confusion or other needs for change. On some level, you already know how therapeutic writing can be. At one time you may have written an angry letter and not mailed it, but felt better for having written it. In the case of a eulogy, writing brings up memories, rekindles feelings, and acts as a catalyst. It has been said, “The only way out is through.” Writing helps you revisit emotions that are important to the healing process, so get your feelings on paper. You do not have to be grieving to use writing as a tool to help you gain clarity on an issue or to motivate yourself to make changes in your life.

There are many ways to use writing to deal with your loss. Some people keep journals or diaries; others write letters. Some people send e-mail to friends; others write poems or stories. There is no right answer. Experiment. Do what works for you.

Julia Cameron, in her book, The Artist’s Way, tells aspiring artists to set aside time each morning to write. She calls it, “morning papers.” You can call it, “mourning papers.” Every morning take the time to write three pages of thoughts and feelings. Write long-hand rather than using a typewriter or computer because there is a better connection between the hand and the heart. While writing, don’t concern yourself with spelling, grammar, punctuation, being redundant, or making sense. Write half-baked ideas, thoughts, or feelings if you want. The goal is not to write something good or something that will ever be read again. The goal is to write simply for the sake of getting it out of your system.

Mourning papers can cover anything-complaints, dreams, frustrations, feelings, and so on. Nothing is too trivial. Complain about the barking dog next door. Write about your life’s dreams or sorrows. Create a grocery list. Brainstorm goals. Unburden yourself of pain, sorrow, fears, and regrets. You can think long-term and create a better life for yourself or you can work on immediate needs. The only rule is there are no rules. Let whatever is on your mind flow onto the paper.

This is a very powerful exercise during which you will make several discoveries:

*The process is enjoyable.

*Your thoughts will flow quickly and the important ones will be pushed to the surface with great force.

*It is easy to fill up three pages.

*You might have to stop to cry, especially if you are mourning or in pain.

*The process frees you of petty complaints and obsessions.

*You will look forward to these morning writing sessions.

Bringing up the pain, although unpleasant, is part of working through it. I’m not a therapist, but from experience I know that repressing feelings is counter-productive. Shakespeare once wrote, “Tears water our growth.” The power of writing is undeniable and there is no better time than now to take advantage of it.

Writing and delivering a eulogy is a noble gesture that is worthy of thought and effort. It is an opportunity to make a contribution to a memorial service-a contribution that you, your friends and family will long remember. Think of a eulogy as a gift to yourself and others. Embrace the opportunity to brighten an otherwise dark time.

Garry Schaeffer is the author of “A Labor of Love: How To Write A Eulogy.” This 96-page book has helped thousands of people since 1995. It includes: a “How-To” section with writing tips and short-cuts; sample eulogies of famous people, including Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Princess Diana and others; poems for memorial services; and much more. http://www.eulogybook.net

Article and photo courtesy www.peterjjackson.com

When you create a Lifebook for your loved one, you can upload the audio eulogy from the funeral so that people who ere unable to attend can hear the eulogy and you ill have it stored for years to come.

Farewell Your Loved One with White Doves at their Funeral or Memorial

White Doves represent spirituality in its deepest sense. Traditional funeral stories told that doves carried the souls of deceased people to heaven. Doves are often portrayed on graves to represent the eternal peace of someone who has departed this life.

Whatever you believe and whatever traditions you follow when mourning the loss of a loved one, it is always comforting to feel that they have gone somewhere peaceful and secure.

When the white doves fly away at the end of a service, people tell me that it feels like they are saying their final goodbye to that person. It often brings up emotions and helps to express grief, which is very therapeutic.

Heavenly Doves can bring between 1 and 25 white doves to services in Sydney. They can be released straight from their special box or they can be handed to family members and/or friends for release.

The doves are usually released at the end of a chapel or graveside service. But they can be released wherever family and friends feel it is appropriate – as long as they are released outside.

White doves are a great way of delivering a special message of peace and love (instead of just flowers) if you can’t be there because you live far away or circumstances prevent you being able to attend. We can read out a personal message or poem before setting the doves free.

How Many Doves Should be Released?

If you’re not sure how many doves to release, here are a couple of ideas.

A Single Dove

To represent the essence of your loved one passing away.

The Holy Trinity + A Spirit Dove

Three doves can be released to represent the father, son and holy spirit, then a single dove is released (usually from the hands of the closest person to the deceased) to represent their loved one joining with the Holy Trinity in Heaven.

Seven Doves = Spiritual Perfection

The number seven is a significant number in the bible.

Seven White Doves can represent seven angels in white flying through the sky.

Twelve Doves

The number 12 is also an important number in the bible.

12 doves can be released to represent 12 blessings (hope, joy, wonder, praise, peace, benevolence, comfort, faith, perseverance, strength, love and grace)

A dove for every year/decade

In the unfortunate loss of a younger person, we can provide a dove for every year of their life (up to age 20) or if the person was older, a dove for every decade of their life can be released.

A 21 Dove Salute

The twenty-one gun salute is often the highlight of official military ceremonies and commemorations. If your loved one served in the military we can release 21 doves, peacefully acknowledging their dedication to our armed forces.

A dove for closest family and friends

Heavenly Doves can simply bring a dove for each person that wants to take part in the release of doves at the funeral service.

Hand-releasing is the most common way that our doves are released because people can personally feel that they are letting their loved one go as the dove flies away.

Heavenly Doves has obtained top 3 in ‘special services’ category in NSW at Australian Bridal Industry Academy Awards 2007, 2008 & 2009. For more information and bookings see www.heavenlywhitedoves.net

The Challenge of Talking to a Young Child

Communicating with preschoolers or young school-age children about any subject can be challenging. They need brief and simple explanations. Long lectures or complicated responses to their questions will probably bore or confuse them and should be avoided. Using concrete and familiar examples may help. For instance, Dr. Earl A. Grollman suggests in his book, Explaining Death to Children, that death may be made more comprehensible by explaining it in terms of the absence of familiar life functions – when people die they do not breathe, eat, talk, think, or feel any more; when dogs die they do not bark or run any more; dead flowers do not grow or bloom any more.

A child may ask questions immediately or may respond with thoughtful silence and come back at a later time to ask more questions. Each question deserves a simple and relevant answer. Checking to see if a child has understood what has been said is critical; youngsters sometimes confuse what they hear. Also, children learn through repetition, and they may need to hear the same question answered over and over again. As time passes and children have new experiences, they will need further clarification and sharing of ideas and feelings.

It may take time for a child to understand fully the ramifications of death and its emotional implications. A child who knows that Uncle Ed has died may still ask why Aunt Susan is crying. The child needs an answer. “Aunt Susan is crying because she is sad that Uncle Ed has died. She misses him very much. We all feel sad when someone we care about dies.”

There are also times when we have difficulty “hearing” what children are asking us. A question that may seem shockingly insensitive to an adult may be a child’s request for reassurance. For instance, a question such as, “When will you die?” needs to be heard with the realisation that the young child perceives death as temporary. While the finality of death is not fully understood, a child may realise that death means separation, and separation from parents and the loss of care involved are frightening. Being cared for is a realistic and practical concern, and a child needs to be reassured. Possibly the best way to answer such a question is by asking a clarifying question in return: “Are you worried that I won’t be here to take care of you?” If that is the case, the reassuring and appropriate answer would be something like, “I don’t expect to die for a long time. I expect to be here to take care of you as long as you need me, but if Mummy and Daddy did die, there are lots of people to take care of you. There’s Aunt Ellen and Uncle John or Grandma.”

Other problems can arise from children’s misconceptions about death. Dr. R. Fulton, in Grollman’s Explaining Death to Children, points out that some children confuse death with sleep, particularly if they hear adults refer to death with one of the many euphemisms for sleep –”eternal rest”, “rest in peace.”

As a result of the confusion, a child may become afraid of going to bed or of taking naps. Grandma went “to sleep” and hasn’t gotten up yet. Maybe I won’t wake up either.

Similarly, if children are told that someone who died “went away”, brief separations may begin to worry them. Grandpa “went away” and hasn’t come back yet. Maybe Mummy won’t come back from the shops or from work. Therefore, it is important to avoid such words as “sleep”, “rest”, or “went away” when talking to a child about death.

Telling children that sickness was the cause of a death can also create problems, if the truth is not tempered with reassurance. Preschoolers cannot differentiate between temporary and fatal illness, and minor ailments may begin to cause them unnecessary concern. When talking to a child about someone who has died as a result of an illness, it might be helpful to explain that only a very serious illness may cause death, and that although we all get sick sometimes, we usually get better again.

Another generalisation we often make unthinkingly is relating death to old age. Statements such as, “Only old people die” or, “Aunt Hannah died because she was old” can lead to distrust when a child eventually learns that young people die, too. It might be better to say something like, “Aunt Hannah lived a long time before she died. Most people live a long time, but some don’t. I expect you and I will.”

Article courtesy of www.buddhanet.net

Healing Grief Residential Program in NSW with Petrea King

Healing Grief is a weekend residential program that acknowledges the pain of grief as
well as providing an understanding of bereavement, its idiosyncrasies and practical strategies to begin or continue the process of healing, integration and making meaning of our loss.

This program is suitable for anyone who has lost a loved one either recently or in the past and who finds that grief is ongoing.

There are limited spaces available for the upcoming program on 19th – 21st February in Bundanoon, NSW (90 minutes from Sydney). Financial subsidies are available for people who live in NSW, through support from NSW Health.

Reading Petrea’s book, Sometimes Hearts Have to Break is highly recommended before attending this program.

For more information visit http://www.questforlife.com.au or phone 02 4883 6599.

How Will The Haitians Grieve Their Loved Ones

This blog posting is courtesy of JoAnne at Heartache to Healing  http://heartachetohealing.com/blog

The grief in Haiti is unimaginable; we have all seen the visual images of the death and destruction. CNN has reported that a government official said the death toll from the January 12th 7.0-magnitude earthquake may exceed between 100,000-200,000. The exact number is unknown and may remain unknown.

About 3 million people — one-third of Haiti’s population — were affected by the quake, the Red Cross said.

In addition to the physical suffering, there is the grief.  Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss.  I learned through some research* that the majority of the people are Catholics or Protestants, whose practice is to provide last rites to the dead and a proper burial.  The main Cathedral in Port Au Prince has crumbled; there will be no prayer vigils and no funeral masses for the dead.

There is an Afro-Creole view called Vodou (Voodoo) which is also practiced in Haiti.  The belief is that people are born and people died and this is simply the cycle of life, death and rebirth.  When the body dies the spirit moves on.  The belief is that the spirit moves through the water.  Looking into the water then, you see the land of the recent dead where the soul goes and it is said they stay there for a year and a day floating and resting. Then they are brought up in a ceremony and released to go on to God.

Vodou is actually helpful in that it functions as a social support network, through community congregations.  Every person in the tradition has access to spirits that govern the realm of death.  The spirits escort the people into the realm of death.  The belief is that death is part of life to be laughed at and death is something that takes everyone in the end.

Rituals are important to healing from grief; they offer a sense of being connected and offer the opportunity to let out emotions.   It seems the Haitian’s are being robbed of the basic burial rituals and mourning the dead in traditional ways will not be possible because so many bodies have been buried in mass graves.  Many families will never know where there dead lie.

My hope is that they find comfort in their religious belief’s, and with those family and friends that a have survived.  What can we do to let them know they are not alone and offer comfort? How can we offer hope to people in a situation that appears so hopeless? Except for offering prayers, I don’t know.  But if I find some answers, I will let you know.  If you have suggestions, let us know by commenting below.

*Elizabeth McAlister, Associate Professor of religion at Wesleyan University

99 Balloons

This is a beautifully moving video of a family who made the most of a tragic situation. The celebration and joy that they created around little Elliott’s life is inspirational.

The Empty Chair at Christmas

This beautiful article is courtesy of Petrea King, founder and CEO of the Quest for Life Foundation (one of our Alliance Charities)

The Empty Chair at Christmas

A Father Dead

I cannot speak to my children about their father –
He is lost to them and to me.
There is an empty space where a father should be.
There is an empty space where a husband should be.
There is a sea of grief between me and my children
And I cannot speak of their father.
Perhaps they think that I have forgotten him
After all these years.
It is just that I cannot speak of him
Because of all these tears.

Marjorie Pizer

Grief is a strange beast that we learn to live with. We don’t get ‘over it’ as if it were a surmountable obstacle. We can become more comfortable with our discomfort but there is no finite time for grief as there is no finite time for love. Grief is often a private affair that others cannot share or perhaps even understand. Grief can spring out of drawers and cupboards, off shelves, from photographs, wafts to our nostrils upon a perfume, is precipitated by music, clutches at our heart, hollows out our insides and plummets us to the depths. It is indeed a strange beast to know and understand, to embrace, digest and assimilate.

Anniversaries, birthdays, special occasions and Christmas evoke powerful reminders of grief. We grieve again at the birth of a child, a marriage, a celebration when we mourn the absence of a loved-one no longer physically present in our lives; that that person is not there to celebrate, commiserate, acknowledge, share or witness the event.

Many people don’t understand the sheer physicality of grief. The chemical consequences of our emotions can create a powerful visceral reaction. Our heart can indeed feel like it’s breaking and many people describe a sense of feeling ‘amputated’ – as if a part of them has been severed.

Another little known or understood aspect of this is that it is not uncommon for people to have the physical symptoms that their departed loved-one experienced during an illness or trauma. Respiratory illnesses, headaches or migraines, aching bones or physical pain in the same body area that our loved-one experienced their discomfort is often the cause of people having all sorts of tests to find a diagnosis or gain relief. It is always worthy of deeper exploration when a physical symptom is present to see whether an anniversary, birthday or other special occasion may be contributing to the experience.

A client of mine experienced a migraine on the 13th day of every month that would last for several incapacitating days. It transpired that her husbands’ cerebral haemorrhage that precipitated his death in a car crash occurred on the same date. Once she was cognizant of this fact she was able to build in a series of rituals and practices that enabled her to more consciously acknowledge the date. These included having a warm bath for several nights before the 13th, going for a walk on their favourite bush track, scheduling a massage, lighting a candle by his photo and playing some shared special music. These simple additions to her life enabled her to give expression to her memories and feelings in a more conscious way – and her migraines stopped.

There is no right way to grieve and members of a family will often react very differently. Some people want solitude while other people won’t want to be alone. Some people want to talk about a loved-one while others may find the conversation too difficult. Some people become oversensitive to everything while others are oblivious to all but their own thoughts and feelings.

Christmas can evoke powerful memories of past family gatherings regardless of whether they were happy or difficult occasions. Many families struggle to relate happily to one another at Christmas-time and this can compound our grief in unexpected ways. Being prepared for this is really important rather than just hoping that things will be ok. Getting caught ‘off guard’ compounds our feelings of grief so setting aside time to consider how we might traverse these days more consciously can assist us to be as comfortable with our discomfort as possible.

The first Christmas after a loved-one dies is often traumatic as the empty space that person filled in our lives simply gapes at us. However, it is very common for the second, third or subsequent Christmases to be difficult or devastating as we fully comprehend the consequences of our lost love.

One of the most helpful sessions in our grief program (called Healing Grief) involves people identifying the behaviours, the environments and the things that they do or have in their lives that give them a strong sense of connection with themselves. Participants in our programs list things like being in nature, fresh flowers, listening to or making music, a good talk to a real friend, warm baths, massage, support groups or counseling, prayer, meditation, rituals, dancing, singing, perfumes, candle light, aromatherapy, bushwalking, the company of pets, small children, friends or family, visiting special places that are meaningful, keeping a journal, having a good cry, painting, hobbies, craftwork, exercise, yoga or being in the garden. Increasing the number of these activities – or the ones that we find individually useful – around Christmas or other potentially challenging days can be very helpful in minimizing distress.

This is often quite difficult with the busyness of Christmas however making some of these activities a priority in the lead up to this time can be very helpful. Scheduling in some time for ourselves so that we can express sadness, disbelief, anger or frustration can be more effective than it coming out in less helpful reactive language or behaviours. Making time for tears or for sadness gives us greater capacity to respond to other people rather than simply react unskillfully.

Setting aside time for reflection so that we honour the relationship we have lost or writing to the person can be helpful. Visiting the cemetery or a favourite shared place in the lead up to Christmas or doing something that you both enjoyed previously can assist people with their feelings of grief while for others creating a new way of experiencing Christmas might be appropriate, perhaps changing the food we traditionally eat or the venue. Opening Christmas gifts at a different time or changing our usual routine can create a new way of experiencing this time together. Keeping a candle lit by a photo of our loved-one or creating a special decoration or flower arrangement in their memory can help us acknowledge their continuing presence in our life even though they are physically absent.

The key is to set aside time to acknowledge our feelings of grief and to consciously choose how we will spend this time together rather than just hoping that we ‘get through it’.

Young children experience grief in powerful ways too. It is often thought that young children have little concept of death but this certainly hasn’t been my experience. It is crucial to provide a child with strategies and rituals that help them to assimilate the reality of loss as well as instilling the possibility of a continuing loving relationship with someone no longer physically present in their life.

Wrapping young children up in a rainbow and connecting up from heart to heart before they go to sleep can be an immensely helpful ritual for children. The child can then send a rainbow from their heart to the loved one who has passed on or, perhaps to a tree or garden if one has been created in memory of the person or to their photograph if a child has one by their bed. The ritual involves telling the child that you’re going to wrap them up in a rainbow and connect up your hearts via a rainbow. You then run your hand from the top of the child’s head to the tips of their toes asking them to imagine you’re wrapping them up in a cloud of red, the colour of strawberries, fire engines and tomatoes. You ask the child if they can see the colour and of course, children always can. You continue with each of the seven colours of the rainbow all the while running your hand gently from the top of their head to the tips of their toes. Then place your hand upon their heart and ask them to imagine a really bright rainbow that starts in their heart and that comes across to your heart – while you move your hand to your heart.

The little prayer I used with my children when I started wrapping them up in rainbows before they went to sleep when they were aged four and seven went like this:

 

I wrap you in a rainbow of light to care for you all through the night.

Your guardian angel watches from above and showers you with her great love.

A child can then send a rainbow from their heart to other family members as well as to the person who has passed on. This simple ritual generally stops nightmares and separation anxiety and is very helpful as a way for children to remain connected to the people they love. The full Rainbow Ritual can be freely downloaded from the resource page at www.questforlife.com.au and has also been written into a children’s book called You, Me & the Rainbow which is available at the Quest online shop. There are also beautiful little rainbow ribbons available with a heart on each end. Children love to have these as a visual reminder of the loving connection they have with the person who has passed on and often like to have them tied to their bed head.

Young children also enjoy making a Christmas decoration that is especially in memory of their loved one who has passed on. This can be hung upon the Christmas tree of displayed on the mantelpiece or on the Christmas table.

Many people berate themselves for having a good time or for laughing and enjoying themselves when they are grieving. This too is very normal and understandable. Some people think they must be in denial or they feel guilty or mortified that they can find pleasure in anything after the dreadful pain of loss. Having fun or enjoying each other’s company is not a sign that we miss a loved-one any the less.

Traditionally, Christmas is a time of happiness, shared times, excitement, reunion and love. Even at the best of times, this can be an enormous and unrealistic pressure on individuals and families and for those who are grieving, Christmas can feel full of potential pain. For some people it will feel like all the world is having a wonderful time with their loved ones and the grieving person is starkly reminded of their alone-ness and the loss of their loved-one. Feeling the pressure of having to be happy, jovial or even pleased to see people, can feel insurmountable and only accentuates the pain of loss.

By honouring our unique way of embracing grief and removing the pressure of other people’s – and our own – expectations of how we should grieve, we can create a healing pathway for ourselves. There is no healthy way around grief. Just as the potter knows that the pot is made strong by the furnace of heat, we must traverse the depths of griefs’ valleys if we are to discover compassion for ourselves and for all people that likewise suffer.

Petrea King
Author: Sometimes Hearts Have to Break
Founding Director
Quest for Life Foundation
www.questforlife.com.au

ph: 02 4883 6599