Grief is affecting us all right now

Are people who do it ‘control freaks’ or are they just susceptible to the marketing practices of funeral directors or insurance companies?

Do what? Arrange their own funeral, that’s what.

A few generations ago grandma lay in the front room, someone washed the body, friends and neighbours paid their respects, bought meals, cakes, and supported the grieving. There was little planning as funerals were similar, the minister knew the deceased and cemeteries were often beside the church.

Funeral directors, as with all commercial enterprises, are always looking for new ways to increase their profit and many years ago, they convinced us, for ease and hygiene, to take grandma out of the family parlour. Be modern they told us, bring her to our parlour, save all the worry and show your friends and neighbours how sophisticated you are.

Well, maybe not those exact words, but the result was the same and grandma was taken off our hands and another layer separated us from death: they are doing it again.

As a result of suggestions, adverts, and free books for funeral planning, it seems already 5% of Kiwis are arranging their own funerals. Adverts tell us how helpful it will be for our grieving and stressed family. Nonsense. Funeral rituals are for the living, a vital part of our grieving process.

Planning the funeral helps us move through the beginnings of grieving healthily. Getting in touch with all the feelings that such planning exposes is painful but helpful – it also gives us another chance to express love. Conversely, it allows us to work through feelings that are not so love-based. After all, not all funerals we are involved with will be for people we love absolutely. Working through those so-called negative feelings is important too: relief, guilt and anger are just a few we may have.

Children also benefit by being involved.  As a bereavement counsellor, I was often told how younger members of a family came up with a suggestion that really struck a chord and the adults grasped it with appreciation. As with the adult’s grief, children too are helped by being involved, so don’t remove them from the rituals. Reading a poem about grandma at her service not only involves the child but also allows the expression of their grief.

Sitting beside my husband’s coffin I was horrified at the sight of my daughter walking back into Rehua Marae with her beautiful long, blonde hair gone. Her gift to her stepfather was to place her hair in his coffin. Where, at twelve, she found that idea I have no idea but she’s still happy with her gesture of love.

‘They’ say time heals. Not true: it’s what we do with the time that does the healing, and working through the funeral planning is just part of the doing.

Remember, the amount of money spent on a funeral does not equate with love, however, the appropriateness of the funeral rites, showing we have really thought about the person does equate with love.  It’s also possible to have an economical funeral that is sensitive to our needs so get quotes for all or parts of the funeral: in fact, the funeral process and service or ceremony can be undertaken by anybody. A funeral director, undertaker, or minister of religion is not required by law at any stage: nor is embalming.

Despite simple (New Zealand legal requirements, they can appear overwhelming, especially when we add our perceptions about what’s required.  We must have: a death certificate, issued by a Doctor, showing the cause of death or, a coroner’s burial certificate the body must be contained in a coffin or other suitable container – solid enough to be handled by the pallbearers, and burial must be in an area permitted by law or cremated in an approved crematorium

Then, within three days of the burial or cremation, the following forms must be lodged with the Register of Births and Deaths.

death registration form

medical certificate as to cause of death, or the coroner’s burial order

And that’s all. A helpful friend can be delegated or may offer, to get these certificates and take them to the Register of Births Deaths and Marriages.

So, if you think you will help your family by planning your funeral, think again – you may be delaying their grief process just as pills, or alcohol, do.

To help, leave money to pay for the rituals if you can, and make sure you have talked about death, and organ donation, with your family, then leave it up to them. After all, our bodies belong to our next of kin when we’re dead: don’t try to control them – they don’t have to do what you planned! END

©Heather Hapeta 2008 (first published in the Press, Christchurch, NZ)

Heather Hapeta, previously an alcohol and drug therapist, studied bereavement counselling under Mel McKissock at the Bereavement CARE Centre in Sydney Australia. She then worked for the Canterbury Bereaved by Suicide Society for four years, had a private practice in Napier, and was a founder member of NALAG NZ (National Association of Loss and Grief).

 

Terrorism and white supremacy – signs of the times

The #worldsweakestman #cowardly #whiteSupremacist kills fifty innocent people -these 50 in New Zealand (pop. 4,792,409) are the equivalent about 3500 people dying in a country with the population of the USA (329,093,110). Puts it into perspective!

I’m proud to be a kiwi and our current Prime Minister who has ensured only 6 days later New Zealand gun laws are changed

Terrorism, death and love on a Monday morning walk

Terrorism will not defeat New Zealanders – we Kiwi will resist it all. Proud of our Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern, this speech will become the benchmark for other leaders to follow – no autocue, just straight from the heart.

My Monday morning walk today was to visit the local Wellington Masjid – three days after the terrible terrorism in Christchurch at the Al Noor Mosjid resulting in fifty deaths – and still, people, all over New Zealand, Kiwi are coming to pay respects, to offer help and leave flowers.

My Monday morning walk was to visit the local Wellington Masjid – three days after the terrible

terrorism in Christchurch – and still, people are coming to pay respects, to offer help and flowers. As we arrived a local boys’ school was performing a haka.

I’ll let the photos do the talking of the Wellington Islamic Centre, Kilbirnie Mosque

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To put this into some numeric perspective – with a population of under 5 million, these fifty deaths in New Zealand is the equivalent of 3500 people dying in a country the size of the USA.

Donate here https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/christchurch-shooting-victims-fund

Tips on how to handle grief . . . even suicide

. . . during holidays such as Christmas, Halloween or an anniversary

Each year we hear of the pressure’s families feel during December – stress from overspending, unrealistic expectations, and often, violence due to alcohol and other drugs.

Pressures like these are multiplied when we’re grieving.

Decisions about a Christmas tree or it to send cards need to be made. Yes? No? Maybe? Will the children want to hang stockings as usual? Will we continue with family traditions or make new ones? Talking about these issues helps not only our decisions but also helps both our grief and our mourning.

Just to be clearer, grief is about our feelings, while mourning is about the actions and rituals we do around a death. Both need our attention.

I’ve not found one right or wrong way of working through grief: just ways that helped me and others I’ve supported during my years as a counsellor – and especially when I was working full time as a bereavement counsellor. I also know the anticipation was always worse than the actual occasion whether that was Christmas, birthday or another anniversary. So, like Christmas, or another anniversary approaches, do what feels right for you – gut instinct worked well for me.

Strange as it may seem, while being necessary, grief is also a privilege: it stems from giving and receiving love. Just as love doesn’t end with death, neither does grief end with the funeral. Sometimes our grief is more painful as the weeks and months pass.

It can be more intense on birthdays; on the birthday of the person who died as well as our own, and, especially for children of the deceased, reaching the age of the loved one who suicided can be critical. Holidays, special family dates and anniversaries all alter the intensity of our grief. These dates may not adversely affect all the family, although the first experience of each event is usually traumatic. The first anniversary of a death can be especially painful as we relive the events of a year ago

So, how will you cope? Will you make a plan or take it as it comes? Most people find simple advance planning helpful; just remember that plans are not carved in stone and they can be changed even at the last minute. For instance, you decide to be on your own then find you want company – if this happens don’t berate yourself for the change, after all, it’s impossible to plan how we will feel in the future so live in the present time, in the ‘now’. I hope these tips will help you, and help your friends, understand grief.

Be as gentle, compassionate, and loving to yourself as you would to a grieving friend. Memories are yours to keep so talking, laughing, and crying over them means you are growing through your grief. By the time the first anniversary arrives most of us have realised that ignoring grief does not make it go away. Conversely, talking about our pain does not make grief worse, although sometimes, or often, it may feel that way.

Often friends stop talking about the deceased person as they assume that when you cry ‘they have made you feel bad’ – as if their talk could increase our pain – we know how painful it is and know their talk cannot intensify it. I believe it’s because they feel uncomfortable with our tears and not their concern for us that stops them from talking about the person. It’s difficult to explain to them that our crying is beneficial. No-one ever says they had a bad cry, it’s always ‘I had a good cry.’

At Christmas, some of us choose to change our routine and be away from our usual surroundings. The choice is yours. Don’t do what you think you ‘should’ do – those ‘shoulds’ are rarely helpful.

Friends and family may urge you to ‘keep active’, ‘get on with life’, ‘you have to let her go’ and other non-helpful advice such as ‘he wouldn’t want to you keep crying’. I am sure you have heard all these and other such homilies. One I hated was ‘you’re lucky to have other children’ – as if our children were interchangeable.

Keeping busy will not heal grief. Experience shows that increases stress and merely postpones or denies the need to talk, feel, and cry. ‘Time heals’ the vague ‘they’ also say. Not true. It’s what we do with the time that does the healing: ask anyone who used medication to dull the pain – when the pills stopped the pain was still there, just waiting to be dealt with. As a past colleague said, ‘time doesn’t heal; it doesn’t get better, what happens is things get different.’

Eat healthy, natural foods or have vitamin supplements if your health practitioner recommends them. Rest is important and exercise, such as walking, can be of immense value. Walking is good at any time but especially now if you are feeling tired or not sleeping well: others prefer a good workout at the gym, run, or cycle. I don’t.

Special dates often, in fact usually, have no significance to anyone else, so be prepared to take what you need. Your grief is your right and I encourage you to claim it. Don’t allow others to damage it because of their ignorance.

If you haven’t tried journal writing now is a good time to see if it helps you – many love their notebook that listens to everything and makes no judgment.

The Canterbury Bereaved by Suicide Society (who I worked for) wrote the following for one of their pamphlets and newsletter – and these ideas apply to all deaths whether heart attack of cot-death, road accident or cancer

    • Remember you are not alone. Find someone to talk to.
    • Use your loved one’s name. Talk about them, good times, bad times, and other holiday memories.
    • Eliminate as much stress as possible. Plan ahead, keep it simple. Ignore others expectations.
    • Involve your children in your discussions and planning…it will help their grief too.
    • Do what is right for you and your family, don’t be pressured into doing things that aren’t OK
    • Use whatever form of spirituality is meaningful to you.
    • Pace yourself physically and emotionally, be tolerant of your limitations…grief is tiring!
    • Christmas will come no matter how much you may not want it. You will survive.
    • Remember the worst has already happened!
    • Take one day at a time, one hour at a time.
    • Anticipation of the event is always worse than the actual day.
    • Buy a special gift and give it to a charity in your loved one’s name
    • Burn a candle over Xmas to symbolise their presence in your thoughts.
    • Write a letter to them in your journal. Describe how Xmas is without them.
    • Change holiday habits: Xmas breakfast instead of dinner, restaurant instead of at home.
    • Keep all your holiday habits. For some, the familiar is reassuring.
    • Expressing your feelings honestly always helps.
    • Volunteer to work at the local mission, old folks home.
    • Have a special toast to absent loved ones before the main meal.
    • Tie a remembrance ribbon on the Xmas tree – your tree, or the town one.
    • Set aside an evening to look at photos and talk about him or her.
    • Make a memory book. Children find this really helpful too.
    • Make a list of things you found helpful to share with others – and keep for next year as grief, although it reduces, continues.

I have learnt to live around the hole in my heart – and you can too.

Heather Hapeta (photographer, author, travel writer)

My Amazon Author page is here

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Tips on how to deal with grief – especially at Christmas (or other special times)

Grief is a necessity and privilege, it stems from giving and receiving love. Just as love doesn’t end with death, neither does grief end with the funeral: sometimes our grief is more painful.

As Christmas approaches many of us find it difficult to deal with our grief. (I’m writing this a mother who had a 20-year old son die, a husband die at 35, and about four years experience as a bereavement counsellor)

Grief is a necessity and privilege, it stems from giving and receiving love. Just as love doesn’t end with death, neither does grief end with the funeral: in fact, sometimes our grief is more painful.

Sadly there are no rules or simple ways to take away the pain.

Sights, sounds and smells bring back pleasure as well as pain and it’s important to find people who will support you, and most importantly, allow you to be yourself.

So, how will you cope with Christmas? Will you make a plan or take it as it comes? Most people find advance planning helpful; just remember that plans are not carved in stone and they can be changed.

By the time the first Christmas arrives most of us have realised that ignoring grief does not make it go away. Conversely, talking about our pain does not make grief worse, although it may feel that way.

Often friends stop talking about the deceased person, (or you may with people who don’t know the person you are grieving). They assume that when you cry they have made you feel bad – as if their talk could increase our pain – and it’s difficult to explain to them that crying is beneficial. I believe it is because they feel uncomfortable with tears rather than their concern for us that stops them talking about our loved one. And we often oblige by not upsetting people… funnily, or rather weirdly, the griever often supports the friend – strange but true.

Friends and family may encourage you to keep active, or to “get on with life”, “you have to let her go’ and other non-helpful advice such as “he wouldn’t want to you keep crying”. I am sure you have heard these and other such homilies.

Keeping busy will not heal grief

In fact, experience shows it often increases our stress and merely postpones or denies the need to talk, feel, and cry. Time heals grief ‘they’ say: not true. It’s what we do with the time that does the healing – ask anyone who has used medication to dull the pain: when the pills, or alcohol, are stopped our pain is still there, just waiting for us to deal with it.

  • Remember you are not alone. Find someone to talk to.
  • Use your loved one’s name. Talk about them, good times, bad times, and other holiday seasons.
  • Eliminate as much stress as possible. Plan ahead, keep it simple. Ignore others expectations.
  • Involve your children in your discussions and planning – it will help their grief too.
  • Do what’s right for you & your family, don’t be pressured into doing things that aren’t OK
  • Use whatever form of spirituality is meaningful to you.
  • Pace yourself physically and emotionally, be tolerant of your limitations…grief is tiring!
  • Christmas will come no matter how much you may not want it. You will survive.
  • Remember the worst has already happened!
  • Take one day at a time, one hour at a time.
  • The anticipation of the event is always worse than the actual day.

HEALING ACTIONS to consider

  • Buy a special gift and donate it to a charity in your loved ones name
  • Burn a candle over Christmas to symbolise their presence in your thoughts.
  • Write a letter to them in your journal. Describe how Christmas is without them.
  • Change holiday habits: Christmas breakfast instead of dinner; restaurant instead of home.
  • Keep all your holiday habits. For some, the familiar is reassuring.
  • Expressing your feelings honestly always helps.
  • Volunteer to work at the local mission, old folks home.
  • Have a special toast to absent loved ones before the main meal.
  • Tie a yellow remembrance ribbon on the Christmas tree – your own tree, or the town one.
  • Set aside an evening to look at photos and talk about him or her.
  • Make a memory book. Children find this really helpful too.
  • Make a list of things you found helpful to share with others. And keep for next year in case you have forgotten what helped you!