What is Mindful Grieving?

Grief is powerful and universal. It is something we all experience at some point in our lives. Most of us are poorly equipped to deal with it effectively because we resist the pain, fatigue, feelings and continue longing for what was.

If you had a flat tire, would you change it with your bare hands? Of course not, you would use tools. So why not learn the tools of Mindful Grieving to move through grief?

You can practice Mindful Grieving by:

1) Recognizing the many facets of grief: fatigue and tired to the bone; overwhelm and don’t know what to do next; constant changes in emotion; aches and pain in the body.

2) Feeling, listening to and experiencing the fear of grief vanish by taking time each day to be in grief. Give it your attention by talking to your loved one’s photo, crying regularly in the shower or the car.

3) Take really good care of yourself for that entire first year. Ask: “What is the most kind and loving thing I can do for Myself in this moment?”



Why Should I Share My Story?

The process of “life review,” or compiling and sharing life stories, can be
a powerful experience for both storytellers and their loved ones. It is an opportunity to preserve memories, bring generations together, and create a lasting legacy.

In addition, studies have shown that telling your story can enhance mental and emotional well-being by enabling you to:

• Derive a sense of accomplishment from past achievements • Resolve old conflicts and feelings of ambivalence
• Reaffirm past and present values
• Create fulfilling future goals

How do I get started?

stroyYou can find a variety of resources both online and in print. You may also want to contact a personal historian: a dedicated professional who can help you tell your story. Services offered may include:

  • Audio recordings
  • Legacy letters
  • Memoir and tribute books
  • Videos
  • Personal mentoring and workshops
  • Transcription, editing, design, & printingArticle provided by The Portland Chapter of the
    Association of Personal Historians, which has members throughout Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington. Many offer free, one – hour consultations to answer questions and discuss the vision of your project.For a link to this resource and more visit www.DepartingDecisions.com/Guide

Grief Before Death – It Happens

Grief is a natural component of human adaptation to change. While bereavement usually refers to those who have lost a loved one, anticipatory (or preparatory) grief occurs both in the dying and in those close to them.

Anticipatory grief can develop in response to receiving a diagnosis of a life-limiting illness, as well as anywhere along the course of illness, particularly as symbolic losses accumulate. This can include loss of physical abilities, autonomy, control, predictability, mental clarity, role or status in family, future hopes and dreams, sense of belonging, and sense of purpose

  • Know that grief tends to fluctuate and experiencing joy and grief simultaneously is possible. Emotional ups and downs are a “normal” part of facing a life-limiting illness.
  • Share your thoughts and feelings with a family member or friend who is able to supportively listen, without giving advice or passing judgment.
  • Try to stick to your regular routines to maintain a sense of normalcy, making adaptations to adjust for any physical or cognitive changes.
  • Develop a strong working relationship with your medical providers so you can feel comfortable getting your questions answered and sharing your fears or concerns.

If your emotional “downs” stick with you (rather than fluctuate), or your grief is accompanied by poor self-esteem or thoughts of actively harming yourself, consider meeting with a social worker, chaplain, counselor, or psychologist for professional support. Make sure your clinician has experience working with individuals and families facing serious medical illness.

By Meghan Marty, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Transitions Professional Center

Suicide Takes Hold of Anyone – Including Robin Williams

It is hard to fathom that someone who has brought so much joy and laughter to millions could be taken from us by suicide. But sadly, today it was announced that famous comedian Robin Williams died a victim of suicide at age 63.

He was most famously known for his starring roles in classic comedies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Jumanji. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Dr. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting and rose to fame in the show Mork and Mindy, a Happy Days spinoff.

William’s wife Susan Schneider released the following statement this morning to The New York Times:

“This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one if its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope that the focus will not be on Robin’s death but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

You will be missed Robin Williams, you will be missed. Although, we can never fully understand how powerful suicide can be, we hope that your legacy can live on through your movies and through bringing such a heartbreaking topic to the forefront!



Before Death Checklist


  • Update Your Will
    • Determine who will get your assets when you pass
    • This should be kept with your Power of Attorney (see below) and Advanced Directive (see below)
    • People who should have a copy: Lawyer, You, Power of Attorney (whoever you decide)
  • Designate Power of Attorney (when necessary)
    • Gives someone the power to make financial decisions for you, when you are not able to make those decisions for yourself
      • Ex. If you are in an accident and are left with no ability to think for yourself
    • People who should have a copy: Lawyer, You, Power of Attorney
  • Fill out Advanced Directive
    • Designates your medical wishes
    • People who should have a copy: Doctor, You, Power of Attorney
  • Prepare a Contact List
    • People who should be immediately notified of the death (immediate family, power of attorney, etc.)
    • People who should be notified and invited to the funeral/memorial
    • People who you DO NOT want notified and who are NOT to attend the funeral/memorial
  • Plan and Write Out Wishes
    • What type of service you would like
    • Where you want the service
    • Burial/Cremation/Donation to Science
    • Where you are to be buried/cremated
  • Write an obituary (optional)
    • Allows you to decide what is written
  • Make a list of important account information
    • All accounts so they can be closed after your death
      • Bank
      • Utilities
      • Cable
      • Cell Phone
    • Where your accounts are (bank, phone, etc.)
      • Which bank?
      • Which cable company?
  • Make a list of death benefits & insurance policies
    • Auto insurance
    • Home insurance
    • Life insurance
    • Veteran services
    • Social security
  • Make a list of assets
    • Titles
    • Registrations

Giving Support to a Grieving Loved One

Grief Support For Loved Ones

This article talks about the best things to say and do when lending support and showing sympathy to people you know who lost their loved ones.

It’s human nature to want to be there for a friend or a loved one in times of loss and grief. However, not everybody knows the right, most appropriate way to do this. Most of us feel awkward or unsure on what to do and what to say. We’re afraid that we might say something that can offend the grieving party or do something that will make them feel even worst. Most of the time, we think too much about it that we get exactly the kind of results that we were afraid of in the first place.

While there’s no easy way to deal with this matter, know that you’re not there to take away the pain. Your role is to provide that much needed support and comfort and the best way to start doing this is going to the funeral and showing the grieving party that you care. There isn’t a perfect blueprint to support those who experienced loss because everyone is unique. However, generally speaking, the techniques below have been shown to provide the needed support for friends or family.

Just being there is enough

Losing somebody is one of the most painful experiences that one person can go through. The bereaved will often feel intense pain, fear, guilt, and insecurity. He or she might even question every single thing in the world and doubt everything that they used to believe in. However, it’s important for you to know that you’re not going to the funeral to give advice or to provide answers. Simply being there and listening when they vent out is often more than enough. Sympathize and offer a shoulder to lean and cry on. If unsure on what to say or what to do, just listen and offer hug. It will be deeply appreciated.

Understanding the pain

For people who are supposed to be there to provide support and comfort, it’s important to understand the pain that the bereaved is going through. The more you understand how they’re feeling, the more effective you’ll become in helping them out. If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you know how hard it is.

Know that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. People who have lost their loved ones have different ways to handle their pain. Some would spend enormous time in their rooms alone while others would like to be surrounded with friends and family members all the time. There are some who would resort to doing things like traveling or going back to school to get distracted. Let them grieve the way they want to and never tell them how they SHOULD do it the right way.

Also, understand that although some people can easily move on from the death of their loved ones, there are those who need more than just a couple of months to ease the pain while some may grieve over a few days as they deal with deep emotions that surface over time. Do not rush the bereaved person in feeling better or in forgetting about the death of their loved ones. Believe me, it wouldn’t help.

What to say

Very few of us prepare for situation like this. We usually do not rehearse the things that we want to say on our way to a funeral. Sadly, there are times that we’re unable to find the right words once we get in contact with the bereaved and this can be pretty awkward. Although there aren’t enough words to ease the pain, there are tips on how you can do this effectively.

First, acknowledge the situation and express your concern. For example, you can say, “I’m sorry. I’ve heard about what happened.” Encourage the person to talk about how the person they loved died. Often, talking about their feelings can somehow help in easing their pain. If you’re not sure on what to say next, just be honest and sincere. Don’t forget to offer support and a shoulder to cry on.

The following are other tips to keep in mind:

  1. Do not force the bereaved to talk. Everybody has his or her own way to grieve. While others wouldn’t want to stop talking and crying, there are those who would prefer to just stare and say nothing. This is perfectly fine. What you can do here is just squeeze their hands, offer eye contact, or simply give them reassuring hug.
  2. Listen. If the bereaved party wants to talk about how their loved one died, you should be willing to sit and listen no matter how much time it will take. These people will appreciate the fact that there’s somebody there to talk to. Sometimes, listening is all they need to get pass through this sad situation.
  3. Acknowledge their feelings. Tell the bereaved party that crying or even breaking down is perfectly fine. Encourage them to express their feelings the best way they know how to. Avoid giving unsolicited advice. If you’ve gone through the same situation, it might help to tell your story but never pretend that you really know what they’re feeling.
  4. Offer assistance. People who are grieving usually do not have the time to do the things they used to do before their loved ones died. Most of them would rather spend time alone in their room than run their errands. Offer to do things for them until they feel a bit better. For example, you can do their grocery shopping, cook a meal, mow the lawn or watch their kids every now and then.
  5. Watch out for warning signs. It’s normal for people grieving to feel disconnected and depressed. However, if you think that they’re not feeling a bit better after a considerable amount of time or if you see that they’re getting worse or becoming clinically depressed, step up and help them get professional help.

Supporting a grieving person is very important. Your presence and support could be everything they need to cope up. So, be there and know the right things to do and say to console them.

photo credit: FOR FLICKR – 002 via photopin (license)

Fear of Death: How to Make it A Healthy Type of Fear

The fear of death is one of the most complicated phobias to affect at least 75% of the world’s population. A lot of people are afraid of dying. While some fear being dead, there are those who are extremely scared of the actual act of dying.

Although this fear can be explained and even justified, it if affects your daily life, it’s no longer healthy and realistic. What one needs to understand is that death will come to all of us eventually and there’s no way that we can prevent it.

What you can do though is to have a healthy type of fear and that is to be scared of dying unprepared. You don’t want to leave the world with unfinished business and not able to do everything that you’ve dreamed about. Although it’s going to come to you no matter what you do, you can prepare for a successful, peaceful death. How? By living your life to the fullest and by striving to become an inspiration to others.

Be prepared all the time
One thing that makes death even scarier is that nobody knows when it will come. While other people live for hundreds of years, others die even before they reach their teenage years. So, what can you do? Stop obsessing about death and do something to protect yourself from untimely demise. Simple things like putting your seatbelt when you’re driving or living a healthy life can give you better chances of living longer.

Also, do not fear death by making sure that you’re ready to go anytime. Stop making enemies, tell the people you love how you feel about them each and everyday, do the things that make you happy, and be an inspiration to people around you.

The world is not our home
In order to easily accept death, one must understand that this world that we’re living in right now is not exactly our home. Each of us is just a traveler passing through. In a matter of days, months, or years, we all shall move on to our next life and we’ll take with us nothing but imprints of our good deeds or negative actions we have created while on Earth.

Welcome and not fear death
Realizing that death will eventually come to all of us actually offer benefits. As we have limited time here on Earth, we are encouraged to maximize that time and live in such a way that people around us will not forget we have existed. Live life helping others, and offer love, compassion, and wisdom with people you encounter. If you do this, you’ll find yourself in your dying bed months or years from now without single regret or fear.

For more information: Dealing with Fear

Grieving the Death of a Pet

I met Lily while walking the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park near the Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon. She sat chomping on a patch of clover paying no attention to me or my girlfriend. I knew this wasn’t a typical wild rabbit—the kind you see scurrying around the woodlands. This was a small Netherland Dwarf that someone turned loose. “You know what?” I said to my friend, “If that bunny lets me pick her up, I’m going to take her home.” Lily was accommodating, so I tucked her in the sleeve of my sweater and drove home.

Lily was a little princess, a house pet, not a rabbit to keep outside in a hutch. I loved her. She was little, cute, and spunky. She enjoyed snuggling and licking my neck with her tiny, pink tongue. And, it only took 20 minutes to potty train her in the kitty litter.

I enjoyed Lily for almost two years before I found a lump in her breast. Alarmed, I took her to our veterinarian. As I feared, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The decision to remove the diseased breast was an easy one. I wasn’t told that rabbits often die of heart attacks coming out of the anesthesia.

And, that’s how Lily died–a heart attack. I felt horrible for not being there when she came out of surgery. Everything must have seemed scary and foreign to her. I could have comforted her–held her as she awakened. Would that have saved her? Lots of what-ifs swirled around in my mind.

I gave Lily a proper burial in our backyard. My two daughters, husband, and best friend joined me in the ceremony. I carried her blanketed body while my family and best friend followed in procession holding lit candles. At her gravesite I spoke about what Lily had meant to me, and shared stories of her antics. I thanked Lily for her unconditional love, asked for her forgiveness, and said goodbye.

Memorializing our pets help make the loss a reality. Inviting others to share in the ritual gives us an opportunity for social support during our grief journey. Other activities that encourage healing are many and may include physical activity, journaling, singing, artwork, meditation, and yoga. Many make tiny altars where they can place their pet’s ashes in urns, light candles, and view framed photos of their departed loyal companion.

When a beloved pet dies, the grief is the same as with the loss of other loved ones, perhaps not as intense or long-lasting, but it is substantial grief none-the-less. We need to develop new eyes after any kind of loss because our worldview is altered after the death of someone we love—human or animal. We need to re-examine and reorder our lives. For me, when a loved one, including a pet friend, dies it means immersing myself in the natural world by walking or running. When I’m experiencing grief, I spend an inordinate amount of time in nature, my place of solace and peace. I also surround myself with non-judgmental people who understand my loss and provide the freedom and safety for me to give sorrow words.

These days, the general population acknowledges pet loss as a legitimate grief. This hasn’t always been so and grieving pet lovers have endured comments such as “it was just a dog/cat/bird. You can get another one.” Bereavement in pet loss requires the same kind of support given to any other family member. We bond with our animals just as we bond with the important people in our lives, and our attachment levels are often very deep. Our animals provide pure, honest and unconditional love. They offer forgiveness without question, and there’s never a day that owners aren’t greeted as royalty. These traits are rare in human to human relationships and many times owning and loving a pet fills the empty places in our lives. I love the popular bumper sticker that states: “Dear God, help me to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.”

From time to time, I revisit the grounds of the Pittock Mansion, stopping at the cyclone fence where I first spotted Lily. It is there that I feel her presence and celebrate our relationship. When a beloved pet dies, it is important that we acknowledge the loss, feel the pain, and give ourselves enough time to heal before adopting another. Grief takes time; it requires the telling of stories, shoulders to cry on, reordering of worldviews, and psychologically relocating our pet so as to enable continuing bonds.

Grief is Not Linear

In the 1970’s as an undergraduate, I spent much of my time studying the work of Dr. Elizabeth  Kübler-Ross whose seminal book On Death & Dying was all the rage in my mental health and psychology program. Her book was one of the first to broach the topic of death, openly reminding all of us that death is part of life. We all die. Her work has positively advanced the hospice movement in the United States and abroad.

Kübler-Ross brought to the fore 5 stages of grief. However, she never intended for these to occur in numerical order, i.e. first denial, then anger, then bargaining, then depression and then at last the finish line–acceptance. This, however, was how her work was first interpreted.

We now know that there is a beehive of emotions related to death and loss, many of the feelings overlapping and repeating themselves.

Over the decades since Kübler-Ross’ work first appeared, there have been many models developed for those in mourning. Others are created all the time. Since people’s style of grieving is so relative, I believe the more variety the better. Yet, even today, On Death & Dying is used in high schools, universities and even medical schools as THE textbook on the subject. While Kübler-Ross’s work is foundational to what is being done today in the field of thanatology, it is by no means the final word. Starting and stopping with Kübler-Ross leaves all the advances made in the past thirty years unrequited.

Kübler-Ross’ work was widely accepted because it had a logical sequence and was easy to teach. People felt like they knew what was coming next. Today we understand that grief is not linear. It comes at us from all directions. We might think we are doing fine one day, and the next day a lava flow spews forth in uncontrollable streams. Our bodies need breaks from grieving. We can’t contain that much emotion 24/7, so there will be moments here and there when we find ourselves in relative peace. Over time, these moments will increase in duration, until one day, we find ourselves learning to live again without our loved one physically present. Grief, however, never leaves us completely. There will always be times of sadness. Perhaps we’ll hear a familiar song, one that reminds us of our loss; or smell something, visit a place, see a face and it all comes rushing back, as if it were lying in wait.

A model for grieving developed by Dr. J. William Worden in his book Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy is one I personally relate to. However, as I’ve said, there are others just as useful. Worden talks about the tasks involved in grieving. Task 1: Accept the Reality of the Loss. Even when we expect someone to die, the finality of death smacks us in the face. The fact that the person is gone forever is a hard one to wrap our minds around and it takes time to assimilate its significance. If the death is sudden, unexpected, traumatic or self-inflicted accepting the reality of the loss is even more complicated because we try to make sense out it, but it’s impossible.

Task 2: Processing the Pain of the loss. There is both physical and emotional pain involved in grieving. It also affects our behavior. Without working through this process, the person might carry the pain of their loss for the rest of their lives, never fully living themselves. One of the reasons for grief counseling is to assist the person in the difficult task of facing their pain with someone who will stay with them through the process. Additionally denying our pain at the time of loss can lead to addictions, life-threatening illnesses, and ongoing emotional problems.

Task 3: Adjusting to a World without Our Loved One in it. The more roles the person played in our lives the more difficult the adjustment, just as the greater the attachment we have with the deceased the greater our pain. Death affects our sense of self-efficacy, self-definition and self-esteem. Sometimes widows or widowers feel like they are only half of who they previously were. It is a time of learning who we are as individuals apart from our loved one/s. It might become a time of spiritual adjustment and re-evaluation of all of our beliefs.

And finally, Task 4: Finding an Enduring Connection with the Deceased in the Midst of Embarking on a New Life. As mourners, we never forget or lose our connection to the person who has died so we are still emotionally invested. We must find a place in our minds where we can place our loved one so we can revisit them from time to time. A place that also has room for others to enter. We do this through our thoughts, memories and dreams. This allows us to move forward in our lives after the loss. Sometimes, I suggest to my clients that they decorate a room in their minds-eye, a room where they will be comfortable meeting their loved one in memory. An effective place where they can visit from time to time..

We will always be influenced by the inspiration, values, beliefs and meaning our loved one had in our life. Even though we shed our physical bodies our relationships never die; they live on in memory. Most people have the resilience to overcome the pain of loss and move on, others need a bit of professional help, but eventually, I believe we can all learn to live meaningful lives again and find a place in memory to keep our relationship with those who’ve gone before us fresh and secure.

For more information and reference books visit: www.HospiceFoundation.org/

Helping Children Grieve

For centuries, no one paid attention to children’s needs when it came to death, dying and bereavement. Even today, some people believe that children aren’t old enough to understand death, funerals or anything else considered “too adult.”   Thankfully, through advances in death studies, this is changing.  However, when my husband lost his beloved grandfather in the 1950’s it was still a firm belief.

As a child, David spent many weekends with his grandmother and grandfather in Seaside, Oregon where they owned a cabin. Grandpa Frank was David’s best friend. He introduced him to licorice cream and frequently pulled David in his Red Flyer wagon down the streets of this beach town to the ice cream parlor. They’d  both return home giggling and showing off  their black teeth. One year, Grandpa Frank died of lung cancer. The days of wagon rides and black teeth were over.

David was told that Grandpa Frank went to heaven. He would never come back. David was prohibited from viewing the body and attending the funeral. Like his deceased pets, he knew grandpa was buried. In fact, all of the family relatives were buried in a cemetery within walking distance of David’s house. Still, at age five, he expected Grandpa Frank to show up and take him to the beach again for licorice ice cream. It never happened.

Every day for weeks, David walked alone to the cemetery and sat weeping by his grandfather’s grave. Sometimes he yelled and got angry at Grandpa Frank for leaving him and not bothering to say goodbye. As David grew up, the visits became less frequent. Yet, even today, at age 62, David tears up, and has retained a modicum of anger just thinking about this traumatic loss and especially the lack of attention and explanation. This single event contributed to deep seated feelings of abandonment that David had to address as an adult.

We are fortunate here in Oregon to have the Dougy Center as a resource for children experiencing grief. The Dougy Center provides support in a safe place where children, teens, young adults, and their families grieving a death can share their experiences. They provide support and training locally, nationally and internationally to individuals and organizations seeking to assist children in grief. They are supported solely through private support from individuals, foundations and companies. The Dougy Center does not charge a fee for its services.

Here are some helpful and healthy ways from the Dougy Center’s website of assisting children in processing their grief. Please note that these suggestions are not verbatim as I’ve added some of my own comments. For more information and the exact wording, please go to:  (www.dougy.org)

1)      Answer their questions. This is the way children learn. Let them know that questions are okay and that you’ll do the best you can to give them honest answers. Pay attention to their age by using language that is appropriate to their level of understanding. Use concrete not euphemistic words, such as died, killed—rather than passed away or lost. A child may think that if someone passed away or are lost, the might return.

2)      Children appreciate choices and feel valued when we offer them. Ask the child if they want to say goodbye to the person who has died, and how they’d like to do it. Include them, if they’d like, in selecting the casket, clothing, flowers, or to even partake in the funeral service itself. Perhaps he/she wants to draw a picture or write a story or poem to be read at the service. Every child’s needs and desires are different so it is important to ask them if and how they’d like to participate.

3)      Remember the person who has died. Talk about them. Part of the healing process is reminiscence. Use the person’s name as this will give the child permission to also use it. Share your own memories of the person and ask the child to share some of theirs. When we do this, we help the child recognize that the person they loved can live on in memory.

Children like to have mementos from people they love. Perhaps, a father’s sweater, money clip, shop tools; or a mother’s apron, piece of jewelry or high heels.  Children, like adults, each grieve in their own way. It is important to watch how they process their pain so you can help with questions and validate their feelings.

4)      Listen. As with adults, listening is one of the greatest ways to acknowledge a person especially if it is done without judgment, evaluation or the need to fix them. Stay away from statements such as “I know just how you feel.” Instead, ask them what it’s like for them. Open-ended questions, ones that can’t be answered with a yes or a no, encourage the child or adult to open up and share at a deeper level. Why questions always put people on the defensive, and the same is true for a child. Instead, use words like “How, what, or tell me more about that?”

5)      Holding a Memorial or Funeral service allows for children and adults to say goodbye and to grieve in community. It demonstrates that the deceased was a valued and important individual. Prior to any service, let the child know exactly what is going to happen; what they can expect to see and hear. Invite them to participate if they choose to. Afterwards, encourage them to create their own method of remembrance, for example planting a tree, using some of their allowance money to make a donation to a charity in honor of their loved one, create a memory box, or temporary altar with a photo and candle to honor the deceased.

6)      Children take breaks from their grief. Often, their attention will turn to playing with their Star Wars toys, their Barbie Dolls or their Leggo collection. Children more than adults need breaks from grieving. They need to know that it is okay to laugh, have fun, and  enjoy themselves even if their loved one has died. They need to know that it isn’t disrespectful or that it means they didn’t love the deceased enough. Remove any guilt they might have by affirming their actions as normal and necessary. Let them know that people don’t have to be sad all of the time just because someone has died.

The important thing to remember is that children are people too. Their emotional landscape is as varied as anyone else’s. Each child should be dealt with in a way that fits his/her personality. We must continue to seek ways to assist them in dealing with losses, not just loss by death, but every loss. Allowing children to grieve in their own way and give expression to their grief through feelings, art, drama, sports or other outlets is equally important. It allows for freedom of expression and helps them to feel safe and cared about. Being honest when informing them of a death and answering their questions will ensure the development of trust and acceptance and will ensure they won’t have the emotional scaring that so crippled my husband’s youth.



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