Thanksgiving and Thanksgrieving

This is my fifth widowed Thanksgiving, and it’s the first year I’ve been up to preparing a traditional meal for our family. Extended family circumstances meant we had our celebration on Sunday, half a week before “real” Thanksgiving Day. It was a wonderful gathering of family and friends, and in almost every moment I basked in watching loved ones laughing, talking, teasing … almost like the years B.G. — Before Grief. Even so, I don’t think I could have mustered the energy — or the will for it — had we met on “real” Thanksgiving Day. 

From the earliest hours after my husband’s death I’ve been grateful for many tender mercies that blessed me through my darkest hours. That doesn’t mean I’ve walked around like Pollyanna playing “the glad game” over the pains and practical problems of grieving. There are many, many aspects of my husband’s never-diagnosed mental and neurological deterioration and his sudden, unexpected death that I cannot  honestly say I’m grateful for. (Perhaps not “yet.” Perhaps not ever.) But I’ve seen sparkles of sunlight (loving gestures from family and friends, personal and professional growth, life lessons learned, and multiple mini-miracles of circumstance) while stepping through otherwise impenetrable days. I continue to appreciate each pinprick glint of goodness as it comes.

HOWEVER, I had to see those glimmers of gratitude for myself. Hearing others say, “You should be grateful that…” or “Aren’t you thankful for…” did not help when grief was a raw, festering sore in every step I took. It didn’t help while I began learning to live with grief’s limp, moving forward but with faltering, often errant steps. It still doesn’t help now that I walk (and sometimes run — though briefly) with my grief-acquired gait.

What did help, and what still helps, is when people reach out to me, when they acknowledge their awareness that grief has altered my path. When grieving souls (like mine) are ready and able to lift their eyes to see the beauty or the genius in the surrounding landscape, they will. They will know when they are ready to look up. You will not. Do not tell your grieving friends where they “should” look — you’ll distract them from placing their wounded feet on safe terrain.

Instead, let them know you’re nearby with your arms outstretched, ready for them to grab hold if they need somewhere to lean. Instead of wishing them a “Happy Thanksgiving,” especially if the loss is as recent as two years, say, “I’m thinking of you on this Thanksgiving Day. I know it’s different. I know it’s hard. I’m here for you.”

UPDATE:

I’m amending this post to include the words of my friend, Andrea Rediske. She and her family have experienced their own battles with love and loss as they grieved their oldest son’s years of medical crises and as they now grieve his still recent passing in February 2014*. I asked Andrea’s permission to share her poignant, clear, insightful perspective to help better educate those who wish to support grieving friends, whether they grieve impending or final losses.

From Andrea:
I wrote this blog post about 4 years ago, after Ethan had had a particularly difficult year. I wish I could summon the same anguished serenity that I felt when I wrote this. I DO have many things to be grateful for: my husband, children, family, friends, my health, the opportunity to pursue my PhD, and many more. But am I grateful for nearly 12 years of witnessing my son fight every day for his life? Am I grateful to have sat at his bedside when he died? Am I grateful for the grief that regularly blindsides me? Nope, nope, nope, nope…
http://segullah.org/daily-special/give-thanks-for-this/

When grief “regularly blindsides” your bereaved friends (as it does with the regularity of a clock ticking off every second of every day), be sure you offer them your outstretched arm in that darkness. Bite your tongue if tempted to preach Pollyanna practices. Instead of telling mourners what to be grateful for, listen to what they have to say — without judging them for saying it.

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* Please see https://tealashes.com/2014/02/21/ethan-rediske-act-supports-my-grieving-friend-and-many-other-families/ to learn more about Ethan Rediske.

Wear Blue for Children’s Grief Awareness Day the 3rd Thursday of November

The Children's Grief Awareness Day Hope Butterfly http://www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org/

The Children’s Grief Awareness Day Hope Butterfly http://www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org/

Thursday, November 20, 2014 is Children’s Grief Awareness Day. (It’s held every 3rd Thursday of November, the week before Thanksgiving’s 4th Thursday.) To learn more about the event, check out http://www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org/.

I wear teal 364 days a year, but on Children’s Grief Awareness Day you’ll find me in blue, and I hope you’ll join me. Even professionals who work with children daily need to better understand and be aware of the unique needs of grieving children.

I’ve networked with many, many souls who have lost loved ones. I’d like to share one example of why #CGADHope is so important. I do so with permission, but with key identifying factors altered. In honor of CGAD, I’ll call this widow “Mrs. Blue.”

Mrs. Blue’s husband died early one school year. Understandably, Child Blue’s academic year held many challenges and adjustments. As the first anniversary of Daddy Blue’s death approached, Child Blue faced greater academic and emotional struggles. The fog of new grief was gone, and the real work of grieving was in full swing.

Before school began, Mrs. Blue contacted school officials, attempting to put into place strategies and awareness to help Child Blue weather that grief-strewn time of year. Sadly, the school wouldn’t allow a meeting with all necessary parties until November (ironically, near Children’s Grief Awareness Day), months after the start of the academic year and the first anniversary of Child Blue’s father’s death.

At the meeting, Dr. Clueless, one of the most necessary of the necessary parties, sat down and brusquely said, “I see Child Blue’s grades and attendance started slipping last fall. What happened?”

Mrs. Blue’s jaw dropped. She’d included the “what happened” reason and background information in all the emails and phone calls she’d made since before the school year began. Even the other necessary parties in the room stared at Dr. Clueless. One of them, Ms. Aware, finally answered, saying, “Child Blue’s father died last fall.” (Mrs. Blue still couldn’t speak.)

Without even a perfunctory “sorry-for-your-loss” or “this-must-be-difficult” acknowledgement to Child Blue (whose attendance was required for the school to finally hold the meeting), Dr. Clueless displayed even worse ignorance. Dr. Clueless responded to Ms. Aware’s statement by saying, “Yes, but that was last year. What’s Child’s problem this year?”

True story.

At a follow-up meeting, Mrs. Blue and Dr. Clueless were the only ones in the room before the others arrived. Because of Dr. Clueless’s comments at their prior encounter, Mrs. Blue asked, “Dr. Clueless, have you ever worked with any other children who’ve lost a parent?” She was stunned to learn that Dr. Clueless had, in fact, worked with many, many grieving students over a 20-year period.

How sad that in all those years, Dr. Clueless had not developed an awareness of children’s grief and grieving. How fortunate that Ms. Aware, in far less than half that time, had developed such an awareness.

For more information on ways you can help bereaved children, see my Helpful Resources page or check out last year’s post on the subject, For Grieving Children …

Taboo Topics When Someone Dies–Part 3, Money

Part 3 in this series on taboo topics (*see below) focuses on money matters and why you should leave them alone.

Would you walk up to random people and pat them on the stomach? Of course not, except… Have you ever noticed that insensitive relatives, acquaintances, or even strangers will do that to women in the latter months of pregnancy? No matter that it’s intrusive, rude, and creepy. (It happened to me, more than once.)

Would you walk up to random people and ask them about their finances? Of course not, except… Have you ever noticed that insensitive relatives, acquaintances, or even strangers will do that to mourners in the earliest days and months of bereavement? No matter that it’s intrusive, rude, and creepy. (It happened to me, more than once.)

Here is what you need to know about the finances of those who are grieving:

1) Their finances are none of your business — unless

the bereaved asks you about money matters, concerns, or questions (in which case, you should limit your words to providing direct answers, not asking them questions or making assumptions), or

… you already have a professional financial relationship to the bereaved (and/or the deceased) as their financial or insurance adviser, accountant, broker, loan officer, etc., and your inquiries are

relevant to that relationship,

timely for the altered needs of the survivors, and

mindful that most major decision-making should be delayed for at least a year.

2)  Financial gifts may be desperately needed by bereaved families, even though mourners’ finances are none of your business. If the deceased was the primary (or even secondary) breadwinner in a family, the sudden loss of income can be financially devastating. Even small monetary gifts can help offset expenses, and they will show your tangible support for friends who have lost loved ones.

3) Death is expensive for its survivors.

Whether the death was expected (due to age and/or health issues) or unexpected (due to undiagnosed health matters or external forces), there are likely medical expenses. Big medical expenses. These may include (but aren’t limited to) doctor, hospital, and ambulance services (**see below for a digressive rant). The financial costs can be huge, and the emotional costs of drawn-out payments for treating the already-deceased loved one can be just as difficult to pay.

Funeral, burial, and cremation expenses can be prohibitive and drain a family’s financial reserves. Payments are often required up front. My home (and the land it stands on) still belongs to my mortgage company as much as it does to me. Even after it’s paid off, I’ll still owe property taxes as long as I own it. How awful it is that the only land I’ve purchased and own “free and clear” is fully uninhabitable: my husband’s burial plot.

Legal and business fees add up. I remember the sticker shock of having to pay for changing the title of my husband’s car to my name before I could sell it. Various accounts and deeds can cost even more. Eventually, every legal document or business account once in the name of the deceased must be updated, closed, or renamed, and these transactions can be costly.

 4) Not everyone has adequate — or any — life insurance (***see below).

Don’t assume.

Don’t judge.

Preexisting health conditions, finances, or emotional constraints may have prevented purchasing such policies.

5) Life insurance payments feel like blood money. They are not windfalls or fun lotto winnings. Their intent is to pay for current and future life expenses for the surviving beneficiaries.

ONLY named beneficiaries have the right to decide how such funds should be spent. Period. If you have an opinion on how it should be spent, keep it to yourself.

Do NOT ask about or comment on life insurance amounts. The subject is not only private — it’s painful. Survivors who are asked about whether they received life insurance payments may feel cornered or pressured into discussing details that only their financial advisers should be privy to. (Remember #1 on this list!)

Don’t ask to borrow money from life insurance funds.

I apologize if this post feels stern. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin by now, but I still remember some people’s intrusions during my earliest months of widowhood. Many meant well. I understood their concern for my well-being, and I continue to feel gratitude for the gifts generous souls sent our family at that time. However, I also recall the inappropriate questions of those who were more interested in satisfying curiosity than consoling my family.

___

*I talk about other taboo topics — politics, religion, appearance, and legal status — in separate posts (while, yes, talking about the very things you shouldn’t talk about).

**My digressive rant:
The ambulance bill provided a double shock. The 5-minute “ride” cost more than $150 per mile, and when I received my credit card statement verifying payment, the expense was listed under “travel and entertainment.” While I appreciated the efforts of the EMTs who responded to my 911 call, and I didn’t begrudge paying for their efforts (fruitless as they were), seeing the cost listed as “travel and entertainment” infuriated me. Still does.
(Okay. Rant over now.)

***If you’re on the fence about purchasing life insurance and you have dependent family members, do it. NowEven small policies can help. I hope you outlive your policy, but if — Heaven forbid! — The Worst Thing (your death) should happen to your loved ones (as it did to me and mine when my husband died), having a financial cushion may be of indescribable help to them, even if it is a small one. [Note: I’m not endorsing any company or industry by saying this. I’m sharing first- and secondhand experience.]