A letter to my best friend

Grief Diaries

Dear Kaite,

I miss you. You passed so unexpectedly, so without warning. We were texting the day before about nonsense: about friends and about your classroom and I had sent you pictures of my wedding dress. You were supposed to be standing next to me while I wore it, you know. And that’s been hard. Actually, just about everything’s been hard.

It’s hard because I can’t talk to you about the things I want to talk to you about. I want to tell you I started watching Glee like you recommended and I want to tell you that in fact, I was right and I do hate it. I want to tell you that I kept watching it, though, because it was one of the last things you said to me and that I cry a lot when something really stupid happens, just because I know I can’t talk to you about it.

It’s hard because I started saying no to extra tasks at work and sometimes to friends. I’ve always been a “Yes, of course, whatever you need,” kind of person, but I’m the one who needs help now. It’s hard to admit that and it’s hard to ask for it and it’s hard to accept it. It’s hard to be frustrated when people do bring you up or don’t bring you up. It’s hard because I know I wouldn’t really know what to say either. It’s hard to know I’m suddenly the needy friend, experiencing a loss I never imagined happening.

It’s hard because I think about you every day, but I know I can’t talk about you every day, because I don’t want to be that person: the one people don’t want to be around because they’re always bringing up sad things. I also know, without a shadow of a doubt, you’d be squinting your eyes at me, shaking your head, wondering why I’m being so dramatic. It makes me smile to remember that face. You’d make it as we sat in your basement, underneath a shared blanket, with me coaxing Opus to cuddle with me instead of you. You’d be chewing on your ice (still don’t know how you found that pleasant), and when I’d tell a story that deserved it, you’d just give me a side-eye and raise your shoulders, with a soft chuckle of incredulity.

It’s hard because I want to talk about how sad I am, but the people you were really close to aren’t people I’m close to. And even though I know I can reach out to those who miss you as much as I miss you, I don’t want to. Because there are some moments when I’m fine and some moments that I’m so unbearably not and I don’t want to send a sad text and snap them out of a moment when they are okay.

It’s hard because I feel guilty that I’m not able to skip over the sadness and just celebrate you. I try, though, I promise. I try to tell stories about the joy you brought to everyone around you. I talk about when you embarrassed me during Never Have I Ever at my New Years’ Eve party and how I was momentarily mad, but in the end, grateful because you brought all my friends from different groups together. I talk about how you made us buy black and blue shirts and decorated them with glitter for the Backstreet Boys’ concert. I talk about the Jersey Shore party we threw in my basement and how we poofed our hair as high as it could go. I talk about going out in White Plains and how, for a while, we thought it was the magical place to be and just no one else understood. I talk about blasting Miley Cyrus in the dead of night in the Chase drive-through in Raleigh for God knows what reason. I talk about the potato I sent you in the mail and the Galentine’s Day presents we gave to each other. I talk about your old man neighbor I befriended when you let me stay with you in NC over my February break. I talk about our races over the Triboro Bridge after a day at the beach.

But, then, I try to remember the day that I visited your classroom in North Carolina and you compared our friendship to some celebrities’ friendship and for the life of me, I can’t remember who. Was it Beyonce and Lady Gaga? Or Rihanna and someone else? Your kids laughed and wondered how we were friends if we were so different: if you were more like Ke$ha and I was more like someone who’d wear pearls. And then I feel so sad because that’s something only you and I know…and I took for granted you’d always be able to help me finish the story and find the laughter.

I want to remember you happily and I try every day. I want to stop getting filled up every time I think of you. And when I successfully talk about you with a smile or get through a few days without crying, I want to stop feeling immediately guilty afterwards. I want to be okay and I want to remember you with joy. But really, what I want is not to have to remember you at all… and just to have you back here with me.

Missing you always,
Amanda

Author: Amanda Urban

The lonely toll of funeral bells

Church

Hi friends. I just returned from Switzerland, and have an experience to share.

We were touring the magnificent Grossmünster church in Zürich when visitors were asked to leave so staff could prepare for a funeral.

A short time later, the Grossmünster’s bells began to toll—and continued for at least 20 minutes. The sound was magnificent, and could be heard far and wide.

Not shy, I asked a local about it, who explained that either a celebration or funeral was in progress.

Having just been at the church, I knew it was the latter.

Time stood still as those beautiful bells tolling high above a city invited strangers near and far to acknowledge a family’s loss.

Here in the U.S., loss is not revered in the same way, but I wish it was.

Church
Grossmünster church in Zürich

Lynda Cheldelin Fell

Are you grief literate? Take the Grief Literacy Test to find out.

With mass shootings fresh in the nation’s cross hairs, it’s more important than ever to test our emotional intelligence about grief—and learn how to help those who are mourning the loss of someone they loved.

Why is this test important? Because we all play a direct role in each griever’s ability to survive the journey. The more support one receives, the better they do in the long haul. A griever who has little to no support can become stuck, resulting in millions of dollars in lost wages, loss of health, loss of family, and worse.

Following is a multiple choice Grief Literacy Test to see how much (or how little) you understand about grief. Wondering how your family and friends would score? Pass this test on to them after taking it yourself.

TEST DIRECTIONS:

For each question, choose one of the four choices that best describes how you would react in that situation. When finished, add the numbers representing your answers together to see your grief literacy score.

Your coworker just lost a teenage daughter in a car accident. What do you say to him? 

  1. I avoid him altogether.
  2. I tell him to look at the bright side, they have other children and can always have more.
  3. I awkwardly admit that I have no idea how he feels and pretend I need to leave for a meeting.
  4. I listen, offer lots of support, and hug frequently.

Your employee recently lost her young son to an illness. When should she return to normal?

  1. By the time she returns to work.
  2. Within 6 months.
  3. After the first year.
  4. She’ll never be the same.

Your sister lost her husband last year, and still cries frequently. How do you react?

  1. I avoid her altogether.
  2. I get impatient and tell her it’s time to move on.
  3. I offer to set her up on a blind date or suggest she try on-line dating.
  4. I offer tissue and a warm hug.

Your neighbor recently lost her daughter to suicide, and her beautiful yard is now overgrown. What should you do?

  1. It’s her yard and she should get out of bed to take care of it.
  2. The fresh air will be good for her, so I might hint that it’s become an eyesore.
  3. I might offer to help her, but I won’t do it for her.
  4. I gather up my garden gloves and tools and just get to work. She won’t have the energy to tend to her yard for a very long time, and I like the exercise.

Your friend lost a son to homicide two years ago, and the son’s birthday is next week. Will you acknowledge it?

  1. His birthday doesn’t mean anything to me.
  2. No, because it’s been two years already.
  3. I think it’s more important to distract my friend from thinking about it.
  4. I’m aware that it is a painful time. I’ll help my friend find a meaningful way to honor her son, and offer a hug every chance I get.

Your coworker’s daughter just died of a drug overdose. Should you say something?

  1. It was a drug overdose, so it doesn’t matter.
  2. No, because I’m too scared my own child will do the same.
  3. I feel bad, but don’t know what to say so I will probably just mumble something about how tragic it is.
  4. I would tell her that I’m there for her, hug her frequently, and take personal time to research for possible resources that can help.

The holidays are coming up, and your widowed uncle is feeling sentimental. What are some ways you can help him?

  1. He is an old man anyway and will soon die, too, so I’ll leave him alone.
  2. I avoid mentioning his wife out of fear that I might remind him that she is gone.
  3. I don’t mention his wife, but I do make him a batch of their favorite cookies.
  4. I mention his wife a lot, give him every opportunity to talk about her, and offer him frequent hugs.

Your brother lost his wife. You just lost your neighbor.  Are they the same?

  1. I don’t care that my brother lost his wife. My neighbor was my best friend, and my pain is the only thing that counts right now.
  2. My brother and his wife argued a lot, so I think my loss is worse.
  3. If my loss feels this painful, his loss must be terrible, too.
  4. All losses should be respected and honored without judgement or comparison, for love and loss come in many forms.

Do you think closed Facebook groups for grievers are helpful?

  1. Those groups are nothing more than one big pity party.
  2. I don’t understand why those groups need to be closed, but I’m glad I don’t have to listen to their sad stories.
  3. I don’t understand their purpose but if they help, then that could only be a good thing.

Those groups are wonderful because they offer a free, safe place for grievers to express their emotions, which is one of the first step towards healing.

Do you think grief support groups and gatherings are worthwhile?

  1. Absolutely not. It’s nothing more than a pity party and huge downer.
  2. I don’t know anything about it, but it must be pretty depressing.
  3. I can’t imagine that it would offer anything fun, but it helps people, then that’s good.
  4. I’m thankful all those people share their journeys of loss and hope so openly. It helps people feel less alone, and gives them hope that they can survive.

How well do you understand the grief journey?

  1. I don’t need to understand it. Grief is a part of life, so what’s the big deal?
  2. I believe it’s a 5-stage journey, and if someone doesn’t experience those stages, then they’re doing it wrong.
  3. I believe that every loss is different, and that each griever may experience different stages as they move through their journey.
  4. I believe that every grief journey is as unique as one’s fingerprint, no two are alike. I believe that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and that the journey sometimes feels like a never ending roller coaster on steroids.

SCORING:

If you scored 44:  You are a fully grief literate, compassionate role model for how to support those who are mourning.

If you scored 30-43:  You don’t fully understand the significant effects a devastating loss can have, but your compassion and open mind are a wonderful start.

If you scored below 30:  You are shamefully illiterate.  But there is hope for you. Because no words will fix grief, simply memorize and apply the following three steps to every griever you encounter:

  • Step #1: LISTEN
  • Step #2: HUG
  • Step #3: Repeat steps 1 and 2 above.

The idea behind this Grief Literacy Test is not to prove someone else’s illiteracy.  Rather, it’s an opportunity to examine where we can improve our own.

It’s hard to see people in pain, and it’s human nature to avoid things we can’t fix. But when we learn to support those in mourning, we become givers of kindness and messengers of hope—gifts that will sustain them as they learn to live with their loved one in their hearts instead of their arms.

www.GriefDiaries.com

Ten years ago today, my daughter died

Grief Diaries

Ten years ago today, my life changed in unimaginable ways. My daughter Aly died and life as I knew it ended.

Confused, shocked, and helpless, I was engulfed by a firestorm of indescribable pain.

Every breath was pure agony. It underscored the saying, “hell on earth.”

I was 43 years old, sitting in the belly of hell from which there was no escape.

I didn’t think I could survive.

What I didn’t know then that I know now is that the belly of hell is actually life’s greatest classroom. While in there, I discovered valuable lessons I wouldn’t have learned any other way.

While in the belly of hell, I discovered others who were there for the same reason. I wasn’t alone, and there’s comfort in numbers.

While in the belly of hell, I learned that many lacked the support I was blessed with.

I learned that this lack of support can make the difference between surviving and thriving.

There in the belly of hell, I learned that I could be part of the difference.

When I learned how, I discovered that it helped my own heart to heal.

While in the belly of hell, English became my second language, and Grief became my first.

I learned that speaking Grief made me unique on the outside. It set me apart in ways I didn’t like. Yet, when I learned to use it to help others, it became something I loved.

The belly of hell afforded many more lessons that not only taught me about myself, they actually molded me into an improved version of who I once was.

I’m no longer afraid of trying. I’m no longer afraid dying.

I’m also no longer afraid of living and giving.

I am no longer afraid to laugh, to love, and to embrace hurting strangers.

Perhaps the most important lesson my daughter’s death taught me is that the language of grief is also the language of love. And when we teach the language of grief, we’re also teaching the language of love.

Ten years ago today my daughter died and I found myself in the belly of hell.

What I didn’t know then is that it was actually a classroom through which I would learn life’s most valuable lessons, making grief the greatest teacher of all.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell

Grief Diaries

Dear bereaved mother,

Grief Diaries

Dear bereaved mother,

I’m so very sorry for your loss and the unimaginable twist of fate you’re now living. It’s a horrible journey that can’t be put into words.

From one bereaved mother to another, I want to offer some insight I hope will be helpful.

Waves of emotions will feel suffocating, and take you to the limit of human pain. In those moments, do nothing but breathe.

Eventually those waves will become less intense and less frequent.

It takes a while for that to happen, but hold on to the hope that eventually it will become less raw. Because it does.

Many nights you’ll feel like ending your own life. Please don’t. Losing a child is survivable, I promise.

You might not remember much for the next few years. This is normal. It’s how the brain reacts to shock.

You will feel like a square peg in a round world, but you aren’t the only square peg. Together, we learn to live in a round world. I promise.

Friends and family can’t fathom the depths of your loss. Seek comfort and understanding from those of us who speak your loss language. We get everything you’re going through, the need to lick your wound in private, feeling like you’re going crazy, the despair of living without your child.

When spending time among us, you’ll also see that one day the despair does lift. Further, you’ll discover collateral blessings that wouldn’t have come about any other way. Hard to believe, I know. But trust that it will happen.

Above all, just know that the journey is survivable. Because it is.

I promise.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell
lynda@lyndafell.com

Surviving Loss of a Partner

Surviving Loss of a Partner

Death of a partner is something nobody can really prepare for.

Your partner is the one person you confided in; the person you shared inside jokes with; the person with whom you spent most of your time.

Losing a partner is like losing half of yourself.

While most of us understand that sorrow and sadness are part of loss, there’s one emotion that’s rarely talked about.

That emotion is loneliness.

How do you manage the loneliness? How do you begin to rebuild without the person who completed you?

Below are 5 tips to help.

Keep Yourself Busy

It sounds cliché, yet the age-old advice of keeping your mind busy is solid. Loneliness creeps in when you have nothing to occupy or distract your thoughts. By minimizing the time you’re alone with nothing to do, you’ll minimize the time you feel lonely.

That said, it’s impossible to keep busy all the time, and frankly, it’s unhealthy as well.

So live by the rule of saying “yes.” When a friend offers to take you for coffee, say, “Yes.”

When a family member invites you over for dinner, say, “Yes.”

When an opportunity to get out of the house arises, say, “Yes!”

Although you won’t always feel like it, most of the time, accepting an invitation is good for you.

Loneliness is normal

It’s good to distract your mind, yet important to remember that you need to embrace loneliness, too. The idea behind keeping yourself busy is to offer a short reprieve from the loneliness, not to forget about it. Not dealing with your grief is a slippery slope that can lead to a number of issues.

It’s vital to understand that loneliness is a normal emotion. Recognize that no matter how much time you spend around others, loneliness can still ensue, and that’s totally fine.

Allow yourself to remember 

Your loneliness is a reminder of the wonderful relationship you shared with your partner. Celebration those memories with fondness.

Pushing memories to the back of your mind can backfire by negatively impacting you in in the future. It seems easier to not honor those memories, and that’s fine for a time. But in the long run, remembering the good times is important.

Turning painful memories into welcome reminders is hard at first, and may even seem counterintuitive. But by training your mind to turn negative feelings into positive moments of remembrance, you’ll begin to process the loss while keeping your partner’s memory alive in your heart.

Consider creating a dedicated space to celebrate the life of your partner. Many choose a memorial keepsake urn they can display prominently as a reminder that love lives on.

Don’t stop doing activities you enjoyed together

It may be tempting to stop the activities you once enjoyed together. This is completely normal. But doing so will help mitigate feelings of loneliness.

If your preferred activity was a group activity, that same group can be a circle of support. If you used to do things as a duo, adopt a friend who will enjoy it, too. Maybe your partner’s passion will live on in your friend.

Further, by continuing activities you once enjoyed with your partner, you’re likely to find others who share the same passion. The sense of belonging can be a wonderful remedy for loneliness.

This might bring up painful memories at first, but find peace in knowing that you’re continuing the rituals and traditions the two of you enjoyed.

Try things you didn’t do together 

While you should continue to do things you did as a couple, it’s important to begin making your own way in the world. Exploring new passions or reigniting old ones not only will keep you busy, it will also help give you an identity of your own.

It might feel strange to start new hobbies and add new strings to your bow, but it’s important to note that companionship doesn’t mean completion.

Simply put, you are your own person; you are now, and you were when your partner was alive. You may not have embraced other passions before your partner passed, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t there.

If you’ve lost a partner, I offer my deepest condolences. Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things any person could face.

Just know that things will get better, allow yourself to grieve, and give yourself time to enjoy the sun again.

by Nat Juchems 

Surviving Loss of a Partner

 

Author’s Bio:

Nat Juchems is the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat helps those grieving the loss of a loved find the right memorial to cherish.

Before becoming the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat worked for six years in the memorials ecommerce industry as a Marketing Director and Ecommerce Director, using his skill set to manage powerful paid search and organic search campaigns as well as implement merchandising strategies and manage the software development teams that made everything work.

Parents, cars can be replaced but kids can’t—one father’s story about forgiveness.

Grief Diaries

Yesterday, an 18-year old girl, her mother, older sister and brother-in-law came to my office. The girl had just rear-ended another vehicle.

When I asked if everyone was okay, they all politely smiled and said yes. But I sensed otherwise.

As an insurance agent, I spelled out the steps to file a claim, then came back to the girl.

I told her it was okay. Everyone makes mistakes and she needed to learn from it and let it go.

Her eyes welled up, she said, “My mom and dad will NEVER let this go.”

She said never through gritted teeth, and I sensed she’d already been given quite a bit over it.

I said, “I want to tell you a story.” 

“On my 26th wedding anniversary, my son came home from his drive to school almost as soon as he’d left. His face showed anguish like yours does now. Behind him I could see his car hood standing up like a tent, his grill and headlights smashed.

For some reason, I felt calm. And I never feel calm. I told him it was okay, we all make mistakes and I was just glad he wasn’t hurt. It was probably one of a handful of things I did right as a parent in his eyes.

He later thanked me for the way I handled that morning. And 58 days later, he was gone.”

My gaze turned to the mother who, until then, had been silently seething. “We can replace cars and houses and boats and ATVs. But we can’t replace people. How this situation today is handled will always be remembered.”

There wasn’t a dry eye. Even macho brother-in-law was sobbing. Mom and daughter embraced.

When someone asks my advice about getting into my business, I tell them what an older, wiser agent told me—it’s a tough job. But there are payoff days that make it worth the ride. Yesterday was such a day.

And parents, cars can be replaced. Children can’t. Learn from it, forgive, and give thanks they live to make other mistakes.

SCOTT SMITH, Jake’s dad

Grief Diaries

A soldier’s ultimate sacrifice

Grief Diaries

Three months after our daughter died, a local boy was killed in combat when his Stryker on patrol hit a buried explosive. I didn’t know his family, but joined the town to honor his sacrifice. Tears streamed down my face as the hearse carrying his remains drove slowly down Main Street. He was just 22 years old.

I met his mom that day, and she shared that her son’s foot was all they had left. It was all the coffin contained, the only thing left to bury.

We hugged long and hard, our wet faces revealing the private hell of two grieving mothers.

Since then, I’ve thought about her often and wondered what it might feel like to lose a loved one in combat. It’s a special kind of loss. The soldier sacrificed his own life with little pay and living conditions to fight for the freedom of people he’ll never meet.

The family sacrifices a child who followed his or her heart, only to return home in a coffin.

The young man I honored on the curb that day represents to me all the faceless soldiers who return home in a coffin.

To those who went before him, I’m grateful for your sacrifice.

To those who went after him, I’m grateful for your courage.

To the families left behind, your loved one will never be forgotten.

In memory of Aaron Aamot

Lynda Cheldelin Fell XOXO

Grief Diaries

A picture worth a thousand words

Faces of Resilience

They say one picture is worth a thousand words because it captures complex emotions in a single shot.

Our newest book is filled with photos that are priceless.

Faces of Resilience is a stunning gallery of nearly 200 portraits taken by Barbara J HopkinsonPRae M Miliotis, and myself that showcase both the commonality and individuality of a timeless journey experienced by people around the world.

Traveling the country to conferences, annual gatherings and even support groups, each subject was invited to write something meaningful on his or her skin to portray how grief has influenced their emotions while serving as a visual reminder that the power of resilience lies within us all.

Thousands of photos later, the top 200 made it into our first published collection.

Faces of Resilience

It’s our hope that this influential collection tells a story better than written words, and serves as an agent of change by stimulating conversations about a universal experience through love, loss, heartbreak, resilience and—ultimately—hope.

Faces of Resilience

Faces of Resilience

Faces of Resilience

Faces of Resilience

Now available on Amazon.

Faces of Resilience

By Lynda Cheldelin Fell

#FacesofResilience #healing #hope

International Bereaved Mother’s Day

Grief Diaries

Today is International Bereaved Mother’s Day.

It’s not a day we celebrate. Rather, it’s a nod of recognition for fellow sisters of the Wailing Tent.

Recognition of the moment when we became a square peg in a round world, turning us each into an Other.

Recognition for . . .

. . . . our strength to get out of bed each day

. . . . our courage to face the future without our child

. . . . our love for mothers who speak our loss language

. . . . our admiration for those who are stronger than we

. . . . our dedication to helping those behind us

. . . . our determination to find the good in life

International Bereaved Mother’s Day is recognition of an invisible pain we carry for life, and yet we carry on.

Big hugs to my fellow sisters in the Wailing Tent.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell

Grief Diaries