Living Through Tragedy When There Are No Answers

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?

– See more at: http://luke1428.com/living-through-tragedy-when-there-are-no-answers/#sthash.WLxjSerE.dpuf

Cook Book Memories

I love to cook, I’ve been interested in cooking since I could eat, I think! I remember standing on a chair around age 4 learning how to make biscuits from Mammie (my maternal grandmother) . . . and also beginning to ‘invent’ my own recipes. My first was adding sugar to peanut butter, mixing it up, and patting it into ‘cookies’ then freezing it. My sweet grandmother patiently let me experiment, then would explain why it didn’t work out like I thought it would.

This guest post brought back those sweet memories. I hope you enjoy this guest blog as much as I did.

God's Grace and Mom's Alzheimer's

I shouldn’t keep it, but I can’t throw it away.  Dad cleaned out another cupboard and asked me if I wanted any of Mom’s cookbooks. I have a cupboard stuffed with cookbooks already.  But I had to look.  I had no problem turning away from the nice, new looking books.  But then I saw it. The tattered, falling apart Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book.  And I was helpless to turn my back on it.

The book was copyrighted in 1953. Mom probably started out with it as a young bride. And the cookbook was part of my whole childhood. The red and white gingham checks with the silhouettes of black pans on the cover shout home and comfort to me.

I leaf through the pages, many of them loose now because the holes have torn.  I look for some notations in Mom’s handwriting, and am disappointed to find…

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What do you send instead of flowers?

FI - what to send

What to Send Instead of Flowers

What to Send Instead Of FlowersWhen my dad died there were more flower arrangements at the funeral home than we could count.  Though we were overwhelmed by the support of friends and family that those flowers represented, the tradition of sending flowers has always struck me as a bit strange.  Someone has died, so their friends and family all give them something that will die too.  Hmmm . . .

Don’t get me wrong, my family is Greek and Greeks love flowers at funerals — the more the better.  So I know that sometimes flowers are the perfect gesture after a death.  But with my personal aversion to giving flowers after a loss there are a few alternatives worth sharing for those looking for alternatives.  This is just a start, so if you have other ideas of what to send instead of flowers please leave a comment.  We want as comprehensive a list as possible.

Check for an “in lieu of flower”

Sometimes families have already told you what you can do instead! Check the obituary, funeral home website, or call the funeral home to ask if the family has offered an “in lieu of flowers” suggestion.

Tree or Shrub and Memorial Stonememorial stone

Though this post may not sound like it, I am actually a plant lover! A tree or shrub the family can plant in memory of their loved one is a nice lasting memorial.  Consider whether the family has a space for a tree or shrub and pick one that you feel would make a nice memorial.  There are many beautiful memorial stones you can find here on the With Sympathy Gifts website.  Even if a tree may be too much, these garden stones are a nice gift on their own.

Photos the Family Doesn’t Have

Many times as a friend or extended family member you may have photos that the immediate family does not have.  Consider putting together a memorial album or CD of photos the family doesn’t have of their loved one.  As the weeks and months pass they will likely be glad to have as many pictures as possible.

A Self-Care Gift

One of the most difficult things for people when they are dealing with the death of a family member is taking care of themselves.  Giving someone a gift such as a gift certificate for a massage, manicure, or even a private yoga class (some instructors will come to your home) is a nice gesture that may help them take time for themselves.  A self-care basket could also be nice if you don’t think they will be up for going out (think nice pajamas, bath items, a candle, a magazine, dvd etc).  Consider the person who has experienced the loss – if they love movies or baseball, tickets to a game or a movie gift card may be more appropriate.

A Dedication or Donation

Consider a dedication or donation you could make that will reflect the life of that person, or your relationship with them.  The options for this are endless – if this is a friend from high school or college, consider a memorial donation to that institution.  If the person was involved in a church or community organization call to see if a donation could be made or an item dedicated.  If the individual had any interest, from sports to art to animals and anything in between, seek a non-profit that may be working in those areas and make a contribution in their memory.  Most places will send an acknowledgement to the family that a donation was made in memory, so make sure to check and provide the family member’s address.

A Memorial Guestbook

memorial guestbookThis is not just any guestbook!  The Guestbook Store sells a customized memorial guestbook where those who attend a memorial service can sign not just their name, but also share a memory of the person and a special message to the family.  The service is often a blur for families, so having this book will allow guest to share memories and messages that the family will be able to look back on later.  Click here to check out their memorial book!

Vacation Time

If your co-worker has lost someone and you are considering an alternative to flowers, consider donating a day of leave.  Most companies only offer a couple days of bereavement time and, if their loss was not immediate family, they may receive no leave time at all.  Donating a day can mean the difference between someone having to return to work the day after a funeral versus having a day or two to rest before returning to work. Check with your HR department to see if your company allows this and what the process is.

Something For the Kids

Though one of the first questions people will ask after a loss is how the children who were affected are doing, children are rarely considered when thinking of things that can be given to a family.  Children can often feel forgotten with all the attention around a death and funeral.  Any small gift can remind them that you are thinking of them.  Think of the age and interest of the children – a stuffed animal (to cuddle with for comfort), a journal (to express feelings), coloring books, activity books, movies, or video games (to occupy themselves when everyone else is busy) are all easy suggestions that will let a child know you haven’t forgotten them.

House Cleaning

When a loved one is ill or dies housework (understandably) gets put on the back burner.  This can continue for weeks or months as we grieve.  Immediately following a loss friends and family are often stopping by the house and it can be a big source of stress that the house hasn’t been cleaned up.  A gift certificate to a cleaning service (even better, with an offer to call and get it scheduled) can be a relief to the family.  You could offer to clean their home, but keep in mind that many people are self-conscious about their mess and would rather have a stranger do this than a friend.

Lawn Care Service

Similar to the above suggestion, many times the person who has died was the person mowing the lawn and taking care of other outside needs.  Even if this is not the case, taking care of those things can be an unnecessary stress on the family.  A gift certificate to a lawn care service (even better, with an offer to call and get it scheduled) is a thoughtful and useful gesture.

Book of Letters

One gesture we have seen and found incredibly meaningful is organizing friends to compile a book of letters.  This is common when there are young children, as friends can write letters to the children about their parent, grandparent, or other family member.  But this doesn’t need to be limited to children.  A book of letters to a parent about their adult child can be extremely meaningful, as there are often many things their child has done and lives they have touched that the parents are unaware of.  This type of book is minimal in cost (all you need is a nice binder and possibly some page protectors, or a bound book that each person writes directly in) but it requires a lot of effort and coordination in contacting friends and gathering the letters.  This is a gesture many families will appreciate for years to come.

Food

Food is a tricky one, though it is a common gesture sent instead of flowers (or in addition to flowers!).  This probably requires its own post, but for now I will just say be thoughtful about how, when, and what you bring if you decide on food.  Right after a death families are often overwhelmed with food.  In a few weeks after the death a gift of food will probably be much more appreciated than right away, when the family has more casseroles than they can shove in the freezer.  A nice basket of non-perishable foods can be nice, especially snacks they can offer to people who stop by unexpectedly.  A good standby if you really want to stick with food may be a gift card to a local restaurant or carry out.  Another nice offer would be to grab their grocery list and go shopping for them.

Flowers or Plants

If you decide flowers are the right thing for you to send, you can make this more thoughtful than a standard arrangement.  First, consider the person who died – is there a plant, flower, or color than reminds you of that person for any reason?  If so, that may be a nice choice.  If not, decide if you want to send flowers or a plant.  The plant is something the family can keep, though not all families will want or appreciate that.  Then consider if there is a flower you have found particularly comforting.  When we lost my dad someone sent an arrangement of all white irises.  It was so beautiful and, for whatever reason, I found it so comforting.  Though I rarely send flowers now after a death, when I do think flowers are the best gesture I will send white irises because they brought comfort to me.

Buy your self a gift:

If you are looking for concrete, helpful ideas for being a good friend to a griever, don’t miss our ebook: Guide to Supporting a Griever (without sticking your foot in your mouth). Don’t worry, it is cheap and jam packed with helpful info (no angels, rainbows, inspirational quotes, or fluff — just helpful tips). You can find it here on amazon:
http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=whsyogr09-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B00FXIBFQW
These are just a few ideas.  If you are looking for ways to support people after a death, check out our post on Supporting a Friend After a Death.  If you are worried about what to say to a friend, you can check out our list of What NOT to Say After a Death for some guidance.  If you have no idea what to write on your sympathy card check out our post onHow to Write a Sympathy Card.

The post today was from What’s Your Grief

Many of you probably have other suggestions to add to this list, please leave your suggestion in the comments below.   Thank you, from Patti, the Diva of Death

Simulating Death

According to a story by CNN “We’ve all wondered what it’s like to die. Now there’s a game that claims it can fulfill our curiosity, without actually killing us.”

I did say that some of my posts would be humorous, some factual, thought-provoking, and indeed – some will be just plain weird. If you clicked on the link to the article, did you notice that it was under travel? It seems that this one definitely falls into the just plain weird category. . . or does it?

Read on…….

A new theme park opened this past September in China. One of the rides is a “death simulator”. A DEATH SIMULATOR? My first thought was “How?”  Is the entrance to the ride a long tunnel filled with bright white lights? Do you reach the end of the tunnel and a shimmering white figure speaks to you, helping you review your life – what you’ve done, how you’ve done it, and to whom? Does it end with an ascent or a descent?

The how is, of course, impossible. But how did they research what to do? What type of experience did they develop?

Life and death

Ding and his partner Huang Wei-ping went to great lengths researching their game, investigating the cremation process that typically awaits 50% of Chinese people after death.

The pair visited a real crematorium and asked to be sent through the furnace with the flames turned off.

“Ding went in the crematory first and it was stressful for me to observe from the outside,” says Huang.

“The controller of the crematory was also very nervous; he usually just focuses on sending bodies in, but not on bringing them back out.”

When it came to Huang’s turn, he found it unbearable.

“It was getting really hot. I couldn’t breathe and I thought my life was over,” he said.

The pair say realism is essential to provoke participants into thinking about life and death.

The why was quickly answered once I read several articles regarding this thrill (?) ride.

CNN: We’ve all wondered what it’s like to die. Now there’s a game that claims it can fulfill our curiosity, without actually killing us.

Business Insider: The creators were motivated to build the game, which was first shown at an exhibition of social enterprises at Gongyi Xintiandi in Shanghai, following their own individual periods of “soul searching”.

My curiosity got hold of me and I did more searching to find out how common this is. Are there others who are simulating death experiences to make you think about life?

A scroll on the wall read “If you don’t know death, how will you know life?” (pictured above) Jia stepped into one of the coffins and sat down. The room was permeated with a sad melody. Jia was given 15 minutes to write down her “last words” on a piece of paper.

Then, she lay on her back in the coffin, her face covered by a piece of thin, white cloth. The coffin was closed. After five minutes in darkness and silence, the lid was opened and Jia experienced a “rebirth.”

All of this took place at Lingxin Culture and Communication Company (3/F, Bldg 1, 18 Wuwei Road East, 6111-2894). The company claims to be the first on the Chinese mainland to offer such a “death experience” to the public. It began trialling the experiences in April, and so far more than 100 people have taken part.

My most intimate experience with dying was with my mother the last year of her life. As I watched her health, but never her spirits, fade we chatted about many things. I asked her many questions during that year:

  • What were her favorite memories?
  • What was the most important advice she had for me?
  • Did she have any regrets, disappointments, things she’d like to change?
  • Had I made her proud?
  • Was she afraid?

It seems from all that was written above, the experience of death’ allows each of us to do some soul-searching. And if you are still breathing and reading this, then you DO know ahead of time. We are all in the process of dying, so think about it. Talk about it. Discuss it with your family. Laugh, share, love, forgive. . .  tempus fugit!

Referenced: CNN, Business Insider and Global Times

Music soothes the soul, and the grieving heart

I’ve been thinking about funeral music lately. The songs played at funerals while photos of the person’s life are being shown.  Why was that particular song selected? What meaning does it have that perhaps only a few of the visitors know?

For instance:

Standing around my mother’s grave, my family sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane”  Not a normal selection indeed, but it was a song that we all knew and sang together anytime the family gathered for any reason. The guitars would come out, someone would start playing it.. and we’d all join in. Singing the family favorites. Leaving on a Jet Plane, Family Tradition, Sloop John B, I Walk the Line and many, many others.

So on that very sad day – ALL of us…. standing around my mother’s fresh grave right next to my daddy’s grave, and filled with sadness & grief … well, we did what we always did. . . .

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The guitars came out and we just started singing.

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When we thought of the words, “I’m leaving on a jet plane” we started looking sideways at each other and smiling. Soon, we were giggling. What a send off!!

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Then we got quiet/  One by one we started placing flowers on her grave. We held each other. We cried while looking around at our family.. our big crazy family… and knew that Lt. Col Charles & Mrs. Doris Parrish would be pleased.

parrish family  The Parrish family.

I’m curious…. what songs have you chosen for your funeral?

My choices, so far, are “In My Life” by the Beatles, and “What a Wonderful Life” by Louis Armstrong.  And both my kids know this.

 

**Note – I do not own any copyright to any of the attached videos. I shared the links from YouTube.

The Empty Life – Guest Blog from “Roger’s Reflections”

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 1v2
The big names always grab the headlines – Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger, Janis Joplin, and Marilyn Monroe. When you read those names you know the connection immediately. Each of these young adults, who apparently had everything, died early tragic deaths. Each of them died in what were, at best, tragic circumstances. We don’t really have to say much more.
Then there are names like ‘AG.’ ‘Who is that?’ you might ask? AG was one of the thousands of ‘unknowns’ who die in the same way. It is more personal for me when it comes to AG. He was my literacy student who, on a Saturday night a few months ago, jumped into a reservoir and drowned. Life, at 18, had just become too much to bear. The benefits of death, in his mind at least, outweighed the benefits of living. There was nothing worth living for.
Though all of these people had their lives ahead of them, they either took their own lives or put themselves in such a setting that their lives were under threat. They had lives, which at least for that moment in time, seemed so empty that they were not worth living.
Solomon could identify with these folks. ‘Vanity of vanities’ he wrote, ‘all is vanity.’ Or, to make it a little clearer, ‘Emptiness of emptiness, all is emptiness.’
In this amazing little book we have a record of Solomon’s attempt to find something to fill the emptiness.

He is going to give is the answer. Stick around.

Rog  Rogers Reflections

What will they say about me on my Tombstone?

Harry Edsel Smith of Albany, New York:
Born 1903 – Died 1942
Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was.

In a Thurmont, Maryland cemetery:
Here lies an Atheist, all dressed up and no place to go.

On the grave of Ezekial Aikle in East Dalhousie Cemetery, Nova Scotia:
Here lies Ezekial Aikle, Age 102.
Only The Good Die Young.

In a London, England cemetery:
Here lies Ann Mann,
Who lived an old maid but died an old Mann.
Dec. 8, 1767

In a Ribbesford, England cemetery:
The children of Israel wanted bread,
And the Lord sent them manna.
Clark Wallace wanted a wife,
AAnd the Devil sent him Anna.

Roman Tombstone:
Do not pass by my epitaph, traveler.
But having stopped, listen and learn, then go your way.
There is no boat in Hades, no ferryman Charon,
No caretaker Aiakos, no dog Cerberus.
All we who are dead below
Have become bones and ashes, but nothing else.
I have spoken to you honestly, go on, traveler,
Lest even while dead I seem loquacious to you.

In a Ruidoso, New Mexico cemetery:
Here lies Johnny Yeast… Pardon me for not rising.

In a Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery:
Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake.
Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.

In a Silver City, Nevada, cemetery:
Here lays The Kid.
We planted him raw.
He was quick on the trigger
But slow on the draw.

A lawyer’s epitaph in England:
Sir John Strange. Here lies an honest lawyer, and that is Strange.

John Penny’s epitaph in the Wimborne, England cemetery:
Reader, if cash thou art in want of any,
Dig 6 feet deep and thou wilt find a Penny.

In a cemetery in Hartscombe, England:
On the 22nd of June, Jonathan Fiddle went out of tune.

Anna Hopewell’s grave in Enosburg Falls, Vermont:
Here lies the body of our Anna,
Done to death by a banana.
It wasn’t the fruit that laid her low,
But the skin of the thing that made her go.

On a grave from the 1880s in Nantucket, Massachusetts:
Under the sod and under the trees,
Lies the body of Jonathan Pease.
He is not here, there’s only the pod.
Pease shelled out and went to God.

In a cemetery in England:
Remember man, as you walk by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so shall you be.
Remember this and follow me.

To which someone replied by writing on the tombstone:
To follow you I’ll not consent.
Until I know which way you went