by Jennifer McBride
I heard a wonderful story about something one of our funeral directors did that added that “extra touch” for a grieving family…
Debbie Winslow was making funeral arrangements with a family for a woman who had died. In the course of the conversation, laughter and tears that are a natural part of that process, Debbie heard the woman’s children talk about their fond memory of their mother’s cupcakes. At each of their birthdays, her children (now grown), she would send them to school with cupcakes for their whole class that were personalized with the name of each child in the class. They talked about how proud they were to bring these to their classmates…
When the family came in for their private viewing, before others would come later that day, Debbie had a tray with a cupcake for each of the family with their name written in icing!
Thank you, Debbie, for not only hearing what is shared with you, but also really listening and honoring the important treasures that are shared with us each day by those whom we are called to serve.
It was in 1996, my first year at Horan & McConaty, that I took a daylong class from an organization called American Academy of Bereavement. The instructor was a woman named Judith Skretny. What I learned from Judith that day has been useful for me and for the individuals and families we care for over the last 14 years.
I’d like to share these:
Top 7 Things to Know About Grief
1. Grief lasts longer and is more painful than most people expect.
2. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve- just your way.
3. The least helpful thing for grieving people is other people telling them how they should be doing things.
4. The most helpful thing for grieving people is to be able to process their feelings (talking, writing, composing, creating).
5. Good grief doesn’t mean forgetting, it means remembering and forming a new relationship with the deceased person.
6. Sometimes the people we think should help us simply can’t.
7. People are fundamentally resilient. They can and they will survive. We can empower people.
My observation after walking with grieving people would be to add an “8th thing” and tell people that “Having faith does not preclude you from going through the process of grief.” I think about when I served in a congregation and the times that grieving people would talk about their thoughts, fears, feelings and struggles. Many times, people would say, “If my faith were stronger, I wouldn’t be hurting like this.” My response to them was that having faith means you have a relationship you can lean into and onto as you integrate loss & change into your life. Expressing the wide range of emotions in grief does not indicate a lack of faith or a lesser faith… It is an indication of being fully human!
Judith Skretny also shared this list of factors that affect a person’s experience of a death. When I am listening to people tell their stories, I try to always be conscious of how these different variables can impact and influence their grief…
Variables that Influence Grief
• The bereaved person’s unique relationship with the deceased (strength of attachment).
• Degree of ambivalence or unfinished business.
• Circumstances of the death (sudden or unexpected; violent or peaceful; age of deceased).
• Personality and coping behaviors of the bereaved person (previous history of loss; ability to express emotions and seek/receive help).
• Social support (family; friends).
• Cultural and religious support (belief system; rituals).
• Health and lifestyle of the bereaved person (history of mental illness; depression; substance abuse).
I still believe many years after hearing this question, that is a clarifying lens we should hold up as we hear the experiences and feelings of those whom we serve…
“What does THIS loss mean to THIS person at THIS time in his or her life?”