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, 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

New (not travel) book by Heather Hapeta – suicide grief

A new booklet (21,000 words) about suicide deaths 

Surviving Suicide: a mother’s story is available on Amazon for e-readers ( also on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc)

Print copies available directly from the author

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!

rooms with views

This week (this was written a few years ago)I am writing from a room with a view. A  room in which various national and international ‘artists in residence’ have used to relax or work.

As I sit and await the muse to visit (surely there must be some residual energy from those other writers) I gaze out the window at the view.

The Peacock Fountain, in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, was built in cast iron in 1911, and is the background to many photographs travelling to all points of the compass. As people pose, it sprays it’s water regularly from the dolphins, and is well decorated with herons, lily leaves, and other undefined foliage.

I sit and think of other views, other places. Some from on high, others through a door or window.

A palm-roofed hut, just large enough to place a double-sized bed and still walk around it, produced a romantic view of white sands, palm trees, and blue skies. Idyllic – a genuine travel brochure scene.

The view from my downtown Manhattan hostel window – taxis abandoned in the middle of the street and only the top of the yellow-cabs roof showing through the snow.

The view from  a tower in Istanbul may have been amazing but I was too busy clinging to the building to appreciate it. It is hard to be a tourist or traveller with a  fear of heights!  Nevertheless I do recall seeing the busy Bosphorus and the skyline of minarets through adrenaline-impaired-vision.

Once I nearly got over my fear enough to inwardly consider urban rap-jumping from the Novotel in Auckland. I am pleased to report I recovered my senses enough to keep those thoughts to myself and remained firmly on top of the hotel and did not walk down the side of the building- face forward – and now own a Tee shirt that says; I wouldn’t dream of urban rap jumping. The view of downtown Auckland and the harbour was great: however I was not really appreciating it right then.

With these confessions of fears, you will be surprised to know that I have done a bungee jump – right in the heart of Wellington. I was really fearful as they tied my ankles, the soft towel to prevent ropeburn did not reassure me. I must be crazy I think. Ropes tied and tested I am under starters orders. “Move to the edge of the platform” he tells me and I shuffle forward, “A little more” I move imperceptibly more, my heart beating at an uncontrollable speed. The view is now clearly in front of me, the water is fast, cold looking and a long long way down. I still have time to back out of this but my pride won’t allow it. The countdown starts. Three. Two. One. Bungee! Over the edge I go, plummeting downwards, waterwards, my heart undecided if to climb out my throat  or smash through my ribs, I’m screaming. I bounce, up and down, down and up again swinging side-ways and slowly come to a gentle halt. They untie my legs as I wonder did I wet my pants? I slowly walk away. That may have only been virtual bungee at Te Papa but it was real enough for me!

Another memorable view from the top was in Scotland. Inveraray, a village built by the head of the powerful Clan Campbell (my clan) in 1745, has a bell-tower built, on top of a hill, as a memorial to the Campbell’s who have died in battle. I climbed, sometimes crawling on my knees, to the top for a fantastic view of the village below, the Clan Campbell castle (Inveraray Castle) and the beautiful Loch Fyne and the tiny village. It seems amazing that such a calm, peaceful setting was the training ground for some half a million troops prior to the D-Day landings in WW2.

My journal, written on top of that hill, notes my grief at my sons death some five years earlier, and how I had then thought I would die from the pain, yet now, on the date of his birth, I was enjoying the view from a hill in Scotland. Grief produces such paradoxes, out of pain, or perhaps because of it, growth and life and laughter happens. Just as Buddhists explain the lotus flower and how its beauty grows out from mud.

Maybe the muse that has been left in this room is a reflective one. One that looks out windows and wonders what’s it all about. I certainly don’t know, all I know is the more I know, the less I know, the less I need to know.