Sunday, January 27, 2013

Action Verbs for Helping Others

Since you have lost a child, others close to you may come to you for help during their grief journey. If you are in a position to give that help, do not give them advice. Love is shown best in action. Here are some action verbs for helping in grief support.

LISTEN without imposing your own perceptions about their way of handling (or not handling) their grief.

LOVE with your antenna up! Take your cues from their signals.

LOSE the platitudes. Your kindness and sharing the grief emotions says it all.

ALLOW for individual differences. Leave preconceived ideas about how to manage frief home.

REMEMBER the bereaved for many years after the death of a child. The second year truly is harder than the first. Many years of cards, calls and concern are needed.

LISTEN as the bereaved talk about their children, listen as they talk about their children, listen as they talk about their children (Get it?!)

TALK to them about your own children just as you always did before!

ACCEPT their “new normal,” just as they must learn to grow into it. Grieving parents do not return to their former selves. Trust the new individual.

Following these suggestions will help everybody to grow in a healthy direction.

                            from part of an article by Daina Simpson Mahon
                                    Reprinted by permission from
                                                Grief Digest

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Letter's Project

Writing letters to a loved one who has died can be very helpful while on a grief journey. So believes Von Kopfman, whose son Jacob, 21, died in a work-related accident last year. He credits Jacob’s twin brother, Jordan, and a psychologist for showing him a way to heal and help others.

Jacob had fallen from a cell-phone tower while at work. Kopfman was notified and he found out when he arrived at the hospital that his son was dead. Jordan was angry because he hadn’t said good-bye to his twin. The psychologist suggested Jordan write a letter to Jacob. Jordan thought it was stupid and didn’t do it for a couple of weeks. When he eventually did and told his father he thought it helped, Kopfman also wrote a letter and was surprised to learn the effects of what is called narrative therapy.

Kopfman said that when you write a letter to a loved one, you get caught up in the belief that you are actually speaking to that person, particularly a hand-written one where true emotions can be released.

Jordan asked his dad, who is a songwriter, to turn his letter into a song. It was posted on Facebook and “the letters project” was born.

Kopfman knew that other parents who had lost children in the previous two years were not doing well and so suggested they write letters to their children also. After doing so and having Kopfman turn their letters into songs also, some friends suggested the project should be a book and CD.

At first Kopfman refused, saying the letters were too personal to share with strangers. But later he found families very receptive to the idea who hadn’t even written their letters yet!

“The loss of a child is completely different than any other kind of loss,” Kopfman said. “There is a fear that they’ll be forgotten, so you set up shrines, for yourself. Now the letter’s project will help keep their memories alive.”

The book has been released recently with the unedited letters in a font that looks like handwriting. From meeting people on his Facebook page and other online sources, Kopfman’s book has approximately 300 letters ranging in length from four sentences to twelve pages. A photo and biography of the person to whom they were written is also included. The CD includes some of these letters.

A second book about letters from terminally ill children will be published sometime this year. They will be telling the world whatever they want about themselves, so as not to be forgotten. Collages made by the children will accompany their letters. Profits from this second book will be shared among the families who letters appear in the books, as they often have been left with large bills after the deaths of their loved ones, according to Kopfman.

He said that he hopes the books inspire others to write letters to loved ones, no matter how long ago they died, because it is never too late for them to get help with their grief.

Kopfman has found that in helping others deal with their grief, he has helped himself.

For more information on the letter’s project, Kopfman can be contacted at

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Life After Loss, Maureen Hunter's Story

When Maureen Hunter’s 16-year-old son was killed in a car accident, this was the third time in her life tragedy had struck and this was the worst of all. First it was her parents from Carbon monoxide poisoning, then it was her husband who was in a horrific car accident and now her son.

“I didn’t think I could survive and didn’t know how I would. At times, I didn’t much want to either. All I wanted was to be where my son was, the longing and missing was crippling. The dark shroud of grief near suffocated me, engulfing me, engulfing my life, engulfing my love. Nothing was immune from the darkness that pervaded everything. And so came the moment when I’d had enough. I finally said, “NO.”

“No, I will not become a victim of my circumstance. I will not let pain be all that I know. I don’t know how but I will…somehow get through this.”

That was to become a pivotal moment that cemented itself into Maureen’s psyche and paved the way for her to see a little clearer. It enabled her to make decisions in her life based on that commitment to herself and to the memory of her son. She refused to let his legacy be pain and pain alone.

“I took time away for me, for the restoration of my heart and soul and came back to my old life anew. I made many changes. I moved to a new town, a new job and made a new home for myself. In the process I met a wonderful man who companions me through this life without my son, who is there to support me and love me and I feel very blessed for that. I made a commitment to live beyond my pain but it doesn’t mean the pain is never there. It is. There are moments where it visits me and sits astride me in its powerful way that it has, and I let it, for a while till I can be more powerful than it once again. The see saw of grief remains always. The impact of loss is forever but it doesn’t have to be devastating forever. Life can have color and bloom in new and different ways.

Grief is unique and individual. Many things she did intuitively, some ideas were given to her but in the end it is her journey, as it is yours. It’s for you to find your way; unfortunately no one else can do it for you. Here’s what helped her the most and which she did regularly, in her own words:

1. I got my feelings and emotions out of my body where they were near crippling me. I screamed them out (in my car), I wrote them out (in my journal) and I talked them out (to the people I felt safe with). I still do including the anger!

2. I actively sought out support. Grief was too big for me alone. I decided I needed all the help I could get. I went online and offline, though then there was no Facebook. I joined compassionate friends and now volunteer for them. People who understood and who were walking a little ahead of me were my lifeline.

3. I kept my relationship with my son strong. It wasn’t the relationship I wanted yet it was there, beyond the physical, a connection, a bond that I was going to nurture and grow as best I could. I talked to him, wrote to him, connected with him in many different ways. He is around me in my home, in the jewelry I wear and is part of my life in so many different ways. The essence of him and what he brought to my life is mine always to keep and to hold.

4. I read avidly. I needed answers, facts, hope, inspiration and to know I hadn’t lost my mind totally. I needed someone to normalize all that I was experiencing and books did that for me.

5. I structured a routine and regularity into my life, especially in the early days. I tried to do something each and every day that got me out of bed and got me up. My animals were a big help to me, they were my motivators that gave me something to think about other than myself when I was all consumed by me, me and me.

6. I got outside every day. I listened to birds, held out my hands to the fury of the wind and sat on the veranda and felt the rain come in. Nature connected me to life, to renewal and to simple pleasures again. I also looked for signs. I saw messages in clouds, picked up butterflies with a smile and rejoiced when I saw an eagle soaring, taking strength from something greater than myself.

7. I started rituals for my son, for remembering, for connecting. Regular things like lighting candles on certain days. Planting out a new garden in his memory. Always buying a bunch of white roses on his anniversary day. When I started my website, the name I choose was part of his name. I brought him into my life always. He is a part of me now and forever.

8. I did something nice for myself often. A special soap. A soothing bath. My favorite coffee at my local café. I planned a day out somewhere different. Really simple things but they gave me a forward focus, a focus that was more than pain alone.

9. I gave back to others and still do. Grief can soften our hearts and bring compassion into our lives in incredible ways. I mentioned I started volunteering for TCF. They had helped me immeasurably and I wanted to do what I could to help them, to help others. For similar reasons that is why my website, and my Facebook came about.

10. I was grateful. I was thankful each and every day for my children that were still here. For my grandchildren. For the smell of flowers. For my dog that licked and loved me. For friends who dragged me out of bed when all I wanted to do was curl up and die. For the sun that warmed my dead bones. For being able to walk every day by the ocean and smell the sea. Later, I could even see the gifts in my grief: what my husband’s death had taught me, what he had given me and how I had changed in a good way through it all.

11. I realized I couldn’t change the past. It was very hard to accept. I so desperately wanted everything to be as it once was, for it to be a nightmare I could wake up from. I couldn’t. No matter how much I suffered or how much pain I was in I couldn’t change the fact that Stuart had died. I remind myself of that often, I can’t change what’s happened I can only change me.

You will find your own ways through your grief, but know that your loved one will be with you always in your heart. They will live on in you and touch your life forever more.

Maureen Hunter is an inspirational writer and grief steps mentor giving comfort and hope to many. View her website for additional articles:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Year's Lessons To Be Learned

I share with you this week one of grief therapist Sandi Howlett’s assessment of the lessons to be learned after the death of a loved one so that joy can return to your heart and your life.

What you have learned from the death:

* Who you can count on

* The security of a hug

* The value of time

* The comfort of faith

* The power of a handwritten memory or note

* The value of ceremony and ritual

* The wisdom to let others help

* The suspension of time

* The beauty of simplicity

* The power of love

From Sandi: “It has been said that grief does not change us but rather it reveals us. Grief has a way of pulling back our layers of bravado and pretense, exposing who we are at our center…and who we are is usually more than we realized. These revelations have the capacity to change how we go forward. The most compassionate people I have ever met are people who have experienced profound loss. They ‘get’ that life and circumstances are temporary and as such, have a reverence, compassion and appreciation that often eludes others.”

Philosopher Rumi connects sorrow and joy and says it beautifully in this quote: “Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.

In this forthcoming new year, I hope you can reflect on where you are now in your grief journey and what is next?