I’ve read so many articles written by beautiful hearts sharing their journeys, lessons, thoughts, and experiences along life’s path. This one touched me deeply I had to share.
Rest in peace, Kara. Thank you for sharing your beautiful heart with us.
Editor’s Note: On March 22nd, 2015, Kara Tippetts went home to be with Jesus after a long and difficult battle with cancer. While she was here, she touched so many lives, and helped people understand how you can find God, even in the midst of suffering, even in the midst of the mundane. Kara’s response to her terminal brain cancer was filled with grace, hope and peace. This devotional comes from her final book, And It Was Beautiful. We hope these words will speak to you in a special way today.
Life without a Bucket List
I can confidently say I don’t live with a long list of things I want to do, see or complete before I’m done in this place. I carried a dream for years of having a farm. I was in love with all things Wendell Berry. I could picture it, the life of routine created by the land and its rhythms.
But beyond that, I’ve never longed for having a list and checking things off. I’m happy with my old cars, my simple wardrobe, my lack of fancy things and vacations. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a good concert, but I also love an organic dance party in my kitchen. I love great food, but I also love a hot dog over the fire pit in my backyard. I love a hike in the mountains, but I also love a walk around the block with my people.
Last week, when I heard I may have another long road to travel on this journey, I turned to Jason and cried. I told him how day after day this place is losing its grip on me. Driving down the street, this place sometimes feels so [vulgar], so wanting my money without care for my heart.
Billboards blare at me what to buy, what to think, how to vote. But the tie that binds me here is relationships. Sickness makes those bonds more real, more important. It’s people who grip my heart.
Suffering has a way of exposing our theology, certainly our practical theology, where what we believe about God collides with where we live. My heart always hurts a little when someone hears my story and begins to question God’s goodness.
I have found that suffering makes my faith more childlike, more simple. Our ideas of God are not necessarily made bigger or more grandiose through suffering, but they are simplified as we wade through the unknown of what comes next.
Last week, in that unknown, I was smooching on [my son] Lake and the thought hit me that I won’t be around to help him navigate his first heartbreak. I was in a public place and I nearly lost my footing because of the fear that gripped me in that moment. I looked up and saw my growing girls and was almost suffocated by the thought of who will help them during the awkward years of puberty. Shouldn’t it be me? That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right? Can’t I stay and be here for them when they need me?
The truth is none of us know the length of our lives. So we pray for daily bread and say thank you when it comes. For today I have a little boy who will cross the room to give me a hug. I have a baby girl who gives me 10 kisses when I ask for five. I have a preteen who still holds my hand in public, in front of her friends even. I have a second born who loves to tell me every tiny detail of her day. I have a guy who makes coffee just like I like it.
A bucket list? No, I don’t need one. I’m so rich. It’s relationships that matter. And for me, paying attention to the precious gift of today is the only thing on my list.
Dear Lord, thank You for the blessings that I have, the friends, family, relationships, even the material possessions I own. But Lord, please let my heart not rest in these. Let my heart not grow hard, or grow weary when You decide that something should be taken from me. May You forever be my ultimate rock and resting place. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
This is a wonderful guest blog, covering a very difficult topic. Please give it a read and a share! Thank you, the “Diva”
I find myself again writing the most difficult of posts. Three years ago it was about one of my high school students who chose to take her own life. This time tragedy struck in our church youth group as on Tuesday we lost a 16-year old girl to the most unlikely of things for someone so young – cardiac arrest.
Her name was Elizabeth and she was a sweet, sweet girl. She was so pleasant to be around. Smiles adorned her face at every turn. And such a committed follower of Jesus.
So young…so healthy…so just getting started on life.
And then she was gone in a heartbeat.
You can read the account as shared by her mother on her Facebook page. As a parent it will make you want to hold your kids tight and cherish the moment. I sure did when my wife and I returned from the hospital.
The toughest part about being with the family at the hospital and helping them work through the funeral arrangements this week was that there are no answers. There are no answers to the “Why did this happen?” question. There are no answers to the “What happened (physically)?” question. There are no answers really at all to how this happened to a perfectly healthy young girl.
And because there aren’t it intensifies the hurt.
Maybe those answers will come one day but right now they are missing. And it’s really just left our entire church and all who know the family in fog. An answer starts you on the path to some closure. The absence of one makes the event linger in your mind.
How do you live through a tragedy when there are no answers? I really don’t know. What I would have to offer as advice would be shallow and simply a guess. Only those who’ve dealt with that are capable of giving an accurate picture of what it’s like.
One thing I do know for sure though is that you need help. You need help from family. You need help from friends. You need help from professionals like pastors and counselors who can lend an ear and offer perspective.
And you need help from God who is the author of answers and the only place to turn when there are no answers forthcoming from human minds.
Sunday night, the day after Elizabeth’s funeral, we held youth group at my house. It was tough because one of our members was missing but she was still on everyone’s mind. So as 40 of us sat and talked around a small campfire, I asked the question, “What have you learned this week?”
“Time is short,” said one.
Another shared, “Nothing is guaranteed. We have to make the most of the time we’ve been given.”
And then this, “We need each other. It’s been nice to see everyone pull together to help people in pain.”
By the time we walked away from our campfire gathering, that seemed to be the overwhelming sense of what our youth group came to terms with. That when there are no answers or when you are just dealing with junk in your life, you have to reach out and hold on to those dearest to you, whomever that may be.
If you have a moment today, lift up a short prayer for Elizabeth’s family. Pray they will find some answers to their questions. And pray that God’s strength and compassion will follow them for many days to come.
Questions: Have you ever dealt with a tragedy where there were no answers? How did you get through it? What’s the best thing a friend or family member has done for you when you were hurting? Are you making the most of the life you’ve been given? If not, how could you turn that around?
Have you been to a funeral recently? Was it held at a funeral home?
Traditional funerals have been undergoing a lot of changes in the past few years. They are being personalized more and more to reflect the life lived. I’ve seen motorcycles, quilts, paintings…even home canned goodies made by the deceased being handed out as people left the service.
The ‘trend’ that is becoming more and more in the forefront is the location – where funerals are being held.
Outside in a park, inside movie theaters, in the event centers you’ll now find located at many funeral homes and – of course – churches.
Today, the Gen-Xer’s,Baby Boomers, Hipsters and Millennials are returning home. More and more funerals are having home funerals. . . read more about it below from this re-post from Cremation Solutions blog.
Bringing The Funeral Home…..Home
If so, you’re not alone – home funerals are growing in popularity across the country. Gen-Xer’s,Baby Boomers, Hipsters and Millennials are seeking to transform institutional, cookie-cutter grieving rituals into personalized experiences that reflect the values, beliefs and wishes of the deceased, and in many cases, that means holding an intimate home funeral in lieu of a formal service.
Home funeral advocates claim that home funeral services allow loved ones more time to experience a healthy, natural grieving process – without the formality and unfamiliarity that often comes with holding a funeral in a strange, sterile place. Others suggest that home funerals help to make the passing of a friend or family member easier, because holding a funeral at home lets mourners spend time together in a warm, personal environment. Sometimes in the actual home of the newly departed, what’s more personal than that!
And speaking of environments, environmentalists are among the growing list of home funeral advocates, thanks to the eco-friendly nature of holding a service at home, and skipping chemical-laden processes such as embalming. I on the other hand see no reason to not have the body embalmed even for home funerals (They Just Look Better). Don’t confuse home funerals with green burial, were just talking about the location of the funeral or visitation, you can
still have burial or cremation in the traditional sense.
Some experts have contributed the rise in popularity of ‘alternative funerals’ to the growth of hospice services, and the corresponding awareness around issues related to dying and death. As more and more people consider how, and where, they’d like to draw their final breath, the topic of funerals and cremations has now evolved into a social movement. Anytime family members actually talk about final wishes and discuss needs and wants it’s a good thing! “Have The Talk” check out The Conversation Project.
The Cost of Home Funerals
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of an adult funeral, complete with viewing and burial, is $8,508 (2014) – a cost that has increased by 29.3% in just 10 years.
By contrast, the average cost of a simple cremation in the United States is approximately $1100, and simple urns can be purchased for under $200.
The actual cost of holding a home funeral is highly variable, with lavish events running upwards of $20,000 or more, and simple services running anywhere from $200-$1000. Factors that impact the cost of a home funeral include:
- Whether or not the body is prepared for viewing prior to burial or cremation
- If a casket is used, and if so, the price of the casket (or materials, if it’s homemade)
- Cost of floral arrangements
- Hiring an officiant (such as a celebrant, priest, pastor or minister)
- Catering services/ chair rental
- Alcohol and beverages
- Purchasing dry ice (to preserve a non-embalmed body for viewing)
- Cleaning services to prepare the home for guests
- Entertainment (musicians, poets and/or singers)
Some grassroots-level home funeral advocates suggest cutting the cost of a home funeral by using a home-built casket made from recycled materials, and asking mourners to bring food to share, pot-luck style. Other cost-cutting measures include forgoing a casket altogether and either having direct cremation prior to the home funeral, or simply leaving the deceased lying in their own bed after their body has been properly washed and prepared for viewing.
Home Funerals – Reviving Old Traditions
While the concept of a home funeral might seem unusual in today’s aseptic world, the fact is that home funerals were the norm until the mid-1800′s, when funeral homes began to pop up across America. In many areas, home funerals were commonplace through to the mid-1950′s and beyond.
Prior to the advent of modern funeral homes, families would care for their own deceased, by preparing the body, and holding vigil over the casket in the parlor room
, kitchen or bedroom. Many estate homes even featured a ‘death door’ – a concealed
door leading directly outdoors from the parlor, allowing for easy removal of caskets.
Modern embalming is also a relatively new process, developed during the U.S. Civil War as a way to preserve the bodies of soldiers killed on the battlefield. Dr. Thomas Holmes found that by replacing all the blood in deceased bodies with a solution containing arsenic, decomposition could be delayed, providing wealthy families who could pay the embalming fee with enough time to transport their loved ones home for their final goodbye. Ironically, Dr. Holmes requested that he not be embalmed upon his own passing.
Is A Home Funeral Legal?
The last thing grieving family and friends holding a home funeral want to deal with is a run-in with the local authorities, so if you’re considering hosting an at-home service at some point in the future, it’s a good idea to check on the applicable laws in your area.
According the National Home Funeral Alliance, “in every state and province it is legal for families to bring or keep their loved one home until time of disposition (burial or cremation).” However, it’s important to note that depending on where you live, you may be required by law to involve a funeral director in your home funeral plans.
So, the simple answer is yes, home funerals are perfectly legal throughout North America (and no, embalming is not required by law).
The Home Funeral Advantage
Although home funerals aren’t for everyone, those who have experienced “home death care” first-hand say that the experience is perfectly natural. It allows for a completely personalized, customized funeral that is not bound by morticians’ schedules or the cost constraints associated with ‘traditional’ services, providing family and friends with the chance to say goodbye – on their own terms.
In some cases, the deceased have the opportunity to plan their own home funerals, choosing everything from the food they’d like served to the clothes they’d like to be cremated in. Even the actual funeral or memorial ceremony can be planned in advance. Today some prefer a less religious ceremony and opt for a more personal and spiritual ceremony. For this style of ceremony I recommend you employ the services of a certified “Funeral Celebrant. You can locate a celebrant in your area here. Celebrant Foundation and Institute. You can also hire a celebrant to write the ceremony but have someone else like a friend or well spoken family member officiate. Celebrant Writing Service. Advocates say this process is great for everyone, providing time for everyone to be included in the home funeral process. In the long run, this can help with the healing process.
If you’d like to learn more about cremation and the home funeral experience, contact your local home funeral advocacy association or better yet ask your local funeral home if they can arrange for home funerals.
If you’d like to learn more about cremation and the home funeral experience, contact your local home funeral advocacy association. In some cases, the deceased have the opportunity to plan their own home funerals, choosing everything from the food they’d like served to the clothes they’d like to be cremated in. Advocates say this process is great for everyone, providing time for everyone to be included in the home funeral process. In the long run, this can help with the healing process.
The other day I was wondering about this very question. Today, I got the answer without doing any research.. it just fell into my lap. . . well, okay.. into my email account. Thank you Julie Beck of The Atlantic, and thank you The Business Insider for passing her article along and for adding your insights to it, as well.
I found it fascinating & informative and thought you might be interested in the answer to the above question and the following information.
Here’s why humans bury their dead:
The ancient Greek Cynic philosopher Diogenes was extreme in a lot of ways.
He deliberately lived on the street, and, in accordance with his teachings that people should not be embarrassed to do private things in public, was said to defecate and masturbate openly in front of others.
Plato called him “a Socrates gone mad.”
Shocking right to the end, he told his friends that when he died, he didn’t want to be buried.
He wanted them to throw his body over the city wall, where it could be devoured by animals.
“What harm then can the mangling of wild beasts do me if I am without consciousness?” he asked.
What is a dead body but an empty shell?, he’s asking. What does it matter what happens to it?
These are also the questions that the University of California, Berkeley, history professor Thomas Laqueur asks in his new book The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains.
“Diogenes was right,” he writes, “but also existentially wrong.”
This is the tension surrounding how humans treat dead bodies. What makes a person a person is gone from their bodies upon death, and there’s really no logical reason why we should care for the empty container—why we should embalm it, dress it up, and put it on display, or why we should collect its burnt remnants in an urn and place it on the mantle.
Humanity’s answer to Diogenes, Laqueur writes, has largely been “Yes, but…” People have cared for the bodies of their dead since at least 10,000 B.C., Laqueur writes, and so the reason for continuing to do so is a tautology: “We live with the dead because we, as a species, live with the dead.”
And the fact that we do so, he argues, is one of the things that brings us as a species from nature into culture. (The taboo against incest is another example.)
Despite the rationality of Diogenes’s logic, it’s unthinkable that we would just throw the corpses of our loved ones over a wall and leave them to the elements. Dead bodies matter because humans have decided that they matter, and they’ve continued to matter over time even as the ways people care for bodies have changed.
Laqueur’s book makes this argument with a dense, detailed sketch of a relatively small slice of time and space: Western Europe from the 18th to 20th centuries.
The story begins with churchyards, which “held a near monopoly on burial throughout Christendom … for more than a thousand years, from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century and beyond in some places.” People would be buried (and generally had a legal right to be buried) in the yard of the church of the parish where they lived (or in the church itself if they were wealthy or clergy).
This was a messy business. The yards were constantly being churned up as new bodies were buried, and they got lumpy. There weren’t many grave markers, and if there were, they were likely to read “here lies the body,” not a particularly personal epitaph.
“The churchyard was and looked to be a place for remembering a bounded community of the dead who belonged there,” Laquer writes, “rather than a place for individual commemoration and mourning.”
Though bodies were jumbled together in churchyards in a way that it made it almost impossible to find any one individual, there was some method to their arrangement: They were buried very deliberately along an east-west axis to line up with Jerusalem to the east, the direction from which the resurrection was expected to come.
John Calvin, the Protestant theologian, thought the very act of burial showed faith in a corporeal resurrection.
In the early 19th century, the dominance of churchyards began to wane, for a number of reasons. They were crowded, for one. Rotting bodies piled up in churchyards and church vaults also produced the kind of odor you might expect, and activists began to argue that they were unsanitary.
But Laqueur points out that churchyards had always been crowded and smelly, and “for centuries the smell … was tolerable.” The rise of cemeteries as an alternative to churchyards, Laqueur writes, was really part of a massive cultural shift, one that owed a lot to the .
During and after industrial revolution, unpleasant things of all kinds were being removed from people’s sight. Butchers and slaughterhouses delivered meat while keeping the blood behind the curtain; London constructed a massive sewer system, getting people’s waste off the streets and out of the River Thames.
With this as the backdrop, it stands to reason that people might want the dead bodies out of their cities as well—while they didn’t pose a real public-health threat, people successfully argued that they did, and that was enough.
The first great cemetery of the West was Père-Lachaise in Paris, built by Napoleon, and it inspired the building of others in Copenhagen, Glasgow, and Boston, among other cities. Unlike churchyards, these cemeteries were stand-alone places for the dead, open to the public and largely separated from the crowded areas of cities.
They were also disassociated from religion. “To some degree this is about the rise of negative liberty: the right to a grave in a neutral civic space irrespective of one’s beliefs or lack of beliefs, and the right to a choice in rituals of burial,” Laqueur writes.
The waning dominance of the Catholic Church had a lot to do with that. Burying bodies right by the church would remind people on their way in to pray for the dead as a way of helping those souls stuck in purgatory. But many Protestant reformers rejected the idea of purgatory, and argued that the dead did not need the prayers of the living.
The focus of cemeteries was not, as it had been in churchyards, on a community of faithful dead, but on remembering the individual.
It allowed for families to be buried together, which hadn’t really been possible in the tangle of the churchyard.
Cemeteries allowed for gravestones, monuments, epitaphs. Carving in stone is a powerful metaphor for permanence, even it’s just wishful thinking.
“It was a place of sentiment loosely connected, at best, with Christian piety and intimately bound up with the emotional economics of family,” Laqueur writes.
“In it, a newly configured idolatry of the dead served the interests less of the old God of religion than of the new gods of memory and history: secular gods.” Cemeteries allowed for gravestones, monuments, epitaphs, the carving of names in stone.
This provides a little insurance against the fear of death—that one’s name, at least, will outlast them. Carving in stone is a powerful metaphor for permanence, even if it’s just wishful thinking.
The advent of cremation as a popular practice took some of this enchantment away from the dead body. But while in some ways people who opted for cremation were finally recognizing the body as a shell, just like Diogenes said, deference towards bodies was often just replaced by deference to its ashes.
Ashes are scattered, interred, and revered in many ways, just as bodies are. And cremation has obviously not completely replaced burial by any stretch.
If care for the dead is one of the quintessential things about being human, fear of death is another. Being the only animal with constant awareness of its own mortality has significant effects on how humans behave.
Often, according to terror-management theory, the thought of death will lead people to seek out and to value more highly things that they think will bring them immortality, in the metaphoric sense. Living on in the memories of others would do the trick, even though we must on some level know is only a reprieve against eventually being forgotten.
On this matter, Laqueur turns to the 17th-century poet John Weever:
Every man, Weever writes, “desires a perpetuity after his death.” Without this idea “man could never have awakened in him the desire to live in the remembrance of his fellows.”
And without it, human life in the shadow of death would be unbearable and unrecognizable: “the social affections could not have unfolded themselves un-countenanced by the faith that Man is an immortal being.” Our love for one another differs from the love animals might feel for one another in that an animal perishes in the field without “anticipating the sorrow with which is associates will bemoan his death,” whereas we “wish to be remembered by our friends.”
Naming the dead, like care for their bodies, is seen as a way to keep them among the living. And maybe it is a way around Diogenes.
So yes, Diogenes, the body is technically nothing once void of its soul, or consciousness, or however one conceives of the essence of a person. We get it. But it’s a physical emblem of that person, and in caring for it, we offer the person’s memory a chance to linger, as we hope our own will.
Even if physical death is quick and final, social death takes time. And through communal effort, people offer each other the chance for their names to last a little longer on Earth than their bodies do.
“There is also another way to construe the dead,” Laqueur writes: “As social beings, as creatures who need to be eased out of this world and settled safely into the next and into memory.”
I emerge from this conversation dumbfounded. I’ve seen this a million times before, but it still gets me every time.
I’m listening to a man tell a story. A woman he knows was in a devastating car accident; her life shattered in an instant. She now lives in a state of near-permanent pain; a paraplegic; many of her hopes stolen.
He tells of how she had been a mess before the accident, but that the tragedy had engendered positive changes in her life. That she was, as a result of this devastation, living a wonderful life.
And then he utters the words. The words that are responsible for nothing less than emotional, spiritual and psychological violence:
Everything happens for a reason. That this was something that had to happen in order for her to grow.
That’s the kind of bullshit that destroys lives. And it is categorically untrue.
It is amazing to me that so many of these myths persist—and that is why I share actionable tools and strategies to work with your pain in my free newsletter. These myths are nothing more than platitudes cloaked as sophistication, and they preclude us from doing the one and only thing we must do when our lives are turned upside down: grieve.
You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve heard these countless times. You’ve probably even uttered them a few times yourself. And every single one of them needs to be annihilated.
Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.
Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.
So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:
Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.
These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on a increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed.
They can only be carried.
I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.
I now live an extraordinary life. I’ve been deeply blessed by the opportunities I’ve had and the radically unconventional life I’ve built for myself. Yet even with that said, I’m hardly being facetious when I say that loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in many ways it’s hardened me.
While so much loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it has made me more insular and predisposed to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature, and a greater impatience with those who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people.
Above all, I’ve been left with a pervasive survivor’s guilt that has haunted me all my life. This guilt is really the genesis of my hiding, self-sabotage and brokenness.
In short, my pain has never been eradicated, I’ve just learned to channel it into my work with others. I consider it a great privilege to work with others in pain, but to say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young; all those who suffered needlessly, and all those who faced the same trials I did early in life, but who did not make it.
I’m simply not going to do that. I’m not going to construct some delusional narrative fallacy for myself so that I can feel better about being alive. I’m not going to assume that God ordained me for life instead of all the others so that I could do what I do now. And I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it through simply because I was strong enough; that I became “successful” because I “took responsibility.”
There’s a lot of “take responsibility” platitudes in the personal development space, and they are largely nonsense. People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand.
Because understanding is harder than posturing. Telling someone to “take responsibility” for their loss is a form of benevolent masturbation. It’s the inverse of inspirational porn: it’s sanctimonious porn.
Personal responsibility implies that there’s something to take responsibility for. You don’t take responsibility for being raped or losing your child. You take responsibility for how you choose to live in the wake of the horrors that confront you, but you don’t choose whether you grieve. We’re not that smart or powerful. When hell visits us, we don’t get to escape grieving.
This is why all the platitudes and fixes and posturing are so dangerous: in unleashing them upon those we claim to love, we deny them the right to grieve.
In so doing, we deny them the right to be human. We steal a bit of their freedom precisely when they’re standing at the intersection of their greatest fragility and despair.
No one—and I mean no one—has that authority. Though we claim it all the time.
The irony is that the only thing that even can be “responsible” amidst loss is grieving.
So if anyone tells you some form of get over it, move on, or rise above, you can let them go.
If anyone avoids you amidst loss, or pretends like it didn’t happen, or disappears from your life, you can let them go.
If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go.
Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit.
You are not responsible to those who try to shove them down your throat. You can let them go.
I’m not saying you should. That is up to you, and only up to you. It isn’t an easy decision to make and should be made carefully. But I want you to understand that you can.
I’ve grieved many times in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed with shame and self-hatred so strong it’s nearly killed me.
The ones who helped—the only ones who helped—were those who were there. And said nothing.
In that nothingness, they did everything.
I am here—I have lived—because they chose to love me. They loved me in their silence, in their willingness to suffer with me, alongside me, and through me. They loved me in their desire to be as uncomfortable, as destroyed, as I was, if only for a week, an hour, even just a few minutes.
Most people have no idea how utterly powerful this is.
Are there ways to find “healing” amidst devastation? Yes. Can one be “transformed” by the hell life thrusts upon them? Absolutely. But it does not happen if one is not permitted to grieve. Because grief itself is not an obstacle.
The obstacles come later. The choices as to how to live; how to carry what we have lost; how to weave a new mosaic for ourselves? Those come in the wake of grief. It cannot be any other way.
Grief is woven into the fabric of the human experience. If it is not permitted to occur, its absence pillages everything that remains: the fragile, vulnerable shell you might become in the face of catastrophe.
Yet our culture has treated grief as a problem to be solved, an illness to be healed, or both. In the process, we’ve done everything we can to avoid, ignore, or transform grief. As a result, when you’re faced with tragedy you usually find that you’re no longer surrounded by people, you’re surrounded by platitudes.
What to Offer Instead
When a person is devastated by grief, the last thing they need is advice. Their world has been shattered. This means that the act of inviting someone—anyone—into their world is an act of great risk. To try and fix or rationalize or wash away their pain only deepens their terror.
Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words:
I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you.
Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That is not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to listen to them, to do everything butsomething is incredibly powerful.
There is no greater act than acknowledgment. And acknowledgment requires no training, no special skills, no expertise. It only requires the willingness to be present with a wounded soul, and to stay present, as long as is necessary.
Be there. Only be there. Do not leave when you feel uncomfortable or when you feel like you’re not doing anything. In fact, it is when you feel uncomfortable and like you’re not doing anything that you must stay.
Because it is in those places—in the shadows of horror we rarely allow ourselves to enter—where the beginnings of healing are found. This healing is found when we have others who are willing to enter that space alongside us. Every grieving person on earth needs these people.
Thus I beg you, I plead with you, to be one of these people.
You are more needed than you will ever know.
And when you find yourself in need of those people, find them. I guarantee they are there.
Everyone else can go.
ANOTHER GUEST BLOG: There’s a bunch of great bloggers out there!!!
I received an email yesterday from a Henry Augustine via Linked In, inviting me to participate in his first “Prose Anthology Challenge” , which asked writers to write 500 words on Death and from there, the top submissions would be published in its first Kindle Anthology.
I’m not entirely sure how Henry got my name but I clicked on the link, just like I arbitrarily click on all links because I firmly believe that if God didn’t want us to receive spam and have our bank accounts hacked, he wouldn’t have created the Internet in the first place.
Anyway, I read some of the submissions and they were all pretty heavy. Writing about heavy topics is not my thing so I thought I would submit 500 words on the lighter side of Death, something that focused on the more whimsical or positive aspects of ceasing to exist like not having to fill out a FASFA application ever again or being removed from the Lands End catalog database once and for all.
Long story short, it was short story long and I blew past the 500 word mark thus throwing myself out of the running in Mr. Augustine’s Kindle death anthology. But Henry’s loss is also your loss because I am posting my short story entitled, “Death Comes to Hohokus, NJ” right here and if you leave, I’ll find out where you live and provide your address to the good people over at Land’s End.
One last thing. After you read it and even if you absolutely hated it, please press “like” and leave lots of positive, wildly exuberant comments about how great it was because I had to explain to my wife why I was writing this when I should have been working and she wasn’t buying it.
Here’s the story:
Death Comes to Hohokus, New Jersey
The doorbell rang and I heard my daughter Claire holler, “I’ll get it!” in that sweet, high pitched voice that made my dog Lester’s ears shoot straight up into the air as if he’d been poked with a fork. Claire’s very responsible for a three-year old. Loves to chip in, always asking my wife and me if she could make our bed while we were still in it.
I was in the den splayed out on the couch with a blanket pulled up to my chin.
There was more than eight inches of wet snow on the ground outside and still falling but inside a golf match was on and while I don’t play golf or like golf, I watch it religiously during the winter because winter in New Jersey is so miserably cold, grey and depressing, I take great comfort in knowing that somebody somewhere is enjoying 80 degrees of pure sunshine and lush greenery even if it’s not me.
I felt his presence before he entered the room, and when it’s your turn, trust me, you will too. Lester’s hackles were up but instead of growling he whimpered and disappeared behind one of the curtains.
Claire entered the den holding his hand. “Dad, your friend Denny is here. Came to say hi.”
“It’s Death, sweetie, not Denny,” Death said.
The whole nine yards: skeleton, black hooded cloak that went all the way to the floor, scythe clutched in one bony hand, floated, didn’t walk.
Claire furrowed her brow for an instant, and I knew she was making sure the name revision stuck. Claire has a habit of furrowing her brow when she’s trying to remember something. I watched her silently mouth the word “death”.
“Ok, bye, Death, bye Dad!” she said, sprinting out of the room.
I suddenly realized I was standing now but with no recollection of how I got there. The blanket was still wrapped around my legs which were shaking so hard I started to vibrate across the room until the coffee table stopped me.
“What is this? Is this some sort of a joke?” I asked, knowing full well this wasn’t a joke.
“Depends on your sense of humor. I hear some people think Gilbert Gottfried is a genius. Let’s keep it simple. I’m Death, your time is up and you are coming with me. Also, contrary to what you heard, I don’t play cards. Or board games.” He raised his hands to make air quotes. “The ‘engaging Death in games of chance and winning your soul back’ business? Sorry. Strictly Hollywood. Got it? Good. Let’s go.”
I fell back on the couch landing on the remote. The channel changed from golf to TCM. Citizen Kane was on. Death and I looked at the screen. Ironically enough, Orson Welles was on his deathbed. “Rosebud,” Orson Welles gasped.
“Citizen Kane!” Death said. He sat down next to me, suddenly engrossed. “Rosebud was his sled. Have you seen it?”
“No. Always meant to,” I said.
“Sorry for ruining the ending but where you’re going, it’s really more of a favor than a spoiler alert,” Death said.
“I can’t believe this is happening. I don’t even know what I’m dying from. Am I dying from something?
“That’s impossible! I got a clean bill of health from my cardiologist just last week. Do you have any idea how much I spend a year on fish oil? Are you sure you got the right guy?”
Death suddenly stood up, raising his scythe menacingly over his head and in an instant his eyes flashed from black to fiery red coals. Remember when you were a kid and you said or did that one thing that pushed your parents over the edge and you could actually see how someone who loved you unconditionally could also be capable of murdering you in cold blood? That’s how this felt when I crossed the line with Death. I pressed my back as deep as I could into the couch in a futile attempt to evade the heat emanating from his eye sockets as his stare bored into me.
“Do you dare mock me? I have the power to make you suffer great pain if that’s your preference.”
“No, that is definitely not my preference,” I said. “I’m sorry and I wasn’t mocking you. Could you just do me one small favor and show me the work order or whatever it is you people, or if it’s just you, you use to keep track of everything? Just do that and I’ll go with you peacefully, I swear.”
“A work order? You’d like to see some documentation, is that it?”
“Yes, if it’s not too much trouble.”
Death’s eyes returned to their original, and now surprisingly reassuring, black eternal void state. He laid his scythe across my coffee table, gently sliding the last glass of Glenfiddich I’d ever have out of its way. “You’re what we in the death collection business call ‘high maintenance’. Have you ever been called that before? High maintenance?”
I watched as Death reached deep inside his cloak and produced an iPhone 6. He opened an app with a tap of his bony finger.
“You have an iPhone?” I asked.
“Who do you think invents technology, Einstein? I’ll give you a hint. Same person that invented Einstein.”
Death clicked and swiped for several seconds while unconsciously singing the chorus to “Who Are You?” by The Who.
“Alright, Mr. Skeptic, here we go. You are Edward Gaines. Age 61. 27 Canterbury Court, Hohokus, New Jersey. Ring a bell? Satisfied? Let’s go.”
Death snatched the scythe off the table and stood up, motioning me toward the door. “After you, Eddie,” he said.
I couldn’t believe it. “That’s not me,” I said. “You got the wrong guy! My name is Michael Carmody. I’m 42 years old, not 61 and this is 27 Canterbury Place! Not Court!”
“Impossible,” Death said.
“Claire!” I shouted. “Can you come here?”
I watched Death pull out his phone and begin retracing whatever iPhone steps he took to end up in my den in Hohokus, New Jersey. Claire trotted into the room and suddenly stopped short.
“Dad, the curtain’s shaking.”
“It’s Lester. Claire, tell Death what your full name is and our address.”
“Claire Augusta Carmody, I’m three and I live on 27 Canterbury Place, Hohokus, New Jersey. Wait. Did you ask me to say how old?”
“It’s fine. And what’s my name?”
“Michael Carmody,” she said. “Need me to vacuum anything?”
“No. We’re good,” I said, watching as she ran her finger across one of the windowsills checking for dust and being somewhat disappointed in not finding any before leaving the room.
Death held his phone in front of his face. The fiery red coal eyes were back. Suddenly, I could sense there was another presence in the room. Disembodied but palpable just the same.
“What can I help you with,” the voice asked. I recognized it. It was Siri! Even people in the afterlife use her, I thought to myself. No wonder Apple stock is up to $127 already after the split.
“Directions to 27 Canterbury Court, Hohokus, New Jersey,” Death said.
“Sorry Death, I didn’t quite get that,” Siri said.
“I’m shocked,” Death muttered sarcastically. “Directions to 27 Canterbury Court, Hohokus New Jersey.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t find 27 Canterbury Court, Hocus, New Jersey,” Siri said.
“Not Hocus, Hohokus! Hohokus,” Death screamed into his phone. He glared at me. “Why don’t you people have normal town names in this state like Sacramento or Buffalo?”
“Maybe you should direct your anger at Siri,” I said. “She’s the one that screwed up your directions and now my afternoon.”
Death removed the hood of his cloak and scratched the back of his head using the tip of his scythe. I had the feeling he was in uncharted territory.
I went back to the couch, got under the blanket and flipped the channel back to the golf match. Scottsdale, Arizona. Not a cloud in the sky. All the spectators in short pants. I was already feeling warmer. Death approached.
“Look, I’m really sorry. This was a whole lot easier when we just used index cards. But nowadays everything is iCloud this and iCloud that. Would you believe I got an app on here that tells me what time low tide is on the Styx? I know I put you through a terrible ordeal. Is there any way I can make it up to you?’
I reached for my Glenfiddich, drained the glass and calmly set it back on the table. I looked Death right in the eye. “I don’t know,” I said. “You seem pretty good with that scythe. How are you with a snow shovel?”