Coping with Grief in the Face of Holiday Cheer

Bayard & Holmes

Today we are pleased to welcome Sally Carey. Sally is a veteran Bereavement Coordinator for Hospice of Covenant Care in Westminster, CO. She has served the populations of the Denver area, helping people heal from the loss of their loved ones, for over ten years.

In recognition that the coming holidays are often the most difficult time of the year, particularly when we have suffered a deep and recent loss, we asked Sally to share her tips on how to make it through the holiday season.

Canstock Grief Statue

Ho, Ho, Hum

Coping with Holiday Cheer in the Face of Loss

By Sally Carey

The holiday season, under the best of times, brings it own stressors and expectations, which we have all learned to manage or mangle, for better or worse, over the years. Congratulations on learning how to keep a grain of your sanity intact, hopefully without leaving too many bodies in the wake of seasons past!

But what do we do when we’ve had some serious, life-challenging or life changing event like illness, job and/or home loss, estrangement, divorce or separation, or even a death, and the happy, happy holidays are assaulting us at every turn of the channel?

I know the fantasy of a Hawaiian vacation or leaving the country altogether might be appealing, but most of us don’t have that option. We still have to figure out a way to get food and find shelter from the storm of good cheer while holding down the fort.

What can help?

The answers are as unique and varied as each individual, and each setback or loss. Regardless of that variety, one thing that does help is to make a plan.

Making a plan can give you a sense of control when coping with circumstances that have been spiraling out of control.

Plan your script. What can you comfortably say when greeted by those who may or may not know about your changes or loss? What are the words that honestly and gently express your feelings and experience?  Try rehearsing a few phrases so you aren’t caught off guard. Anticipate their responses and your rejoinders along with questions to ask them that can shift the focus. These might be no-brainer responses in better times, but you might not be functioning at your peak right now. Have some ‘planned and canned’ statements in your protective arsenal.

Next, lower your expectations about what you can comfortably do – physically, financially, and socially.

Refocus on your values of the season and give yourself permission to reconsider how you want to express those.  If that means changing a tradition like giving gifts to everyone, sending cards to millions, hosting dinner, etc., think about the purpose of that tradition and find a simpler way to accomplish the goal.

For instance, instead of giving gifts or sending cards, make a donation to a charity or cause that is meaningful to you or to someone who has died. Do it in the name(s) of those you would normally give gifts, and it is a win/win for honoring values and including others. Another bonus is that typically the receiving organization will send out cards to those you’ve identified as donors so you don’t have to do anything else.

Instead of hosting a dinner, you could make a date to do something enjoyable together in the near future. You could also ask someone else to host it this time as a gift to you, or you could tone it down to a ‘cider and cookies’ gathering. It could be that this year, instead of any dinner, you prefer to go to a prayer service. Invite others to join you and maybe have coffee afterwards. A change in tradition does not mean you are forsaking a tradition forever. It just means you’re making it work for you this year.

If you are missing someone who has died, make a plan to remember & honor your loved one—a lit candle, some pictures on the mantle, a prayer service, a gift to their charity, a day of service or creating a service project in their name are a few ideas.

In doing this, you are creating new ways to maintain your enduring connection with the one you are missing. There aren’t any road maps for that challenge. Search your heart and maybe connect with other folks who have done this. You can also turn to your local grief support groups or hospice bereavement counselors to get ideas that are specific to you.

Most people want to avoid public tears and runny noses, so plan on how and when you may need to safely release your difficult thoughts and feelings before going out in public.

If you are “keeping a lid on it,” you will probably blow your cover at a less than ideal time and place. Letting yourself have the private down time for reflection and feeling and maybe falling apart will help you have control when you need it.

If you are out and about, always know where the nearest bathroom is in case you have to hide and wipe your tears and nose. Believe me. It’s not a pretty sight to be sniveling and snotting while asking for directions to the restroom! Your car can be a good safety zone too. It also helps to go places with a trusted person who can whisk you away and make explanations or apologies at the drop of a tear.

Go ahead and make some plans for limited sociability, but also make a Plan B, which could be to only stay a short time or to allow yourself a last minute cancellation.

Also, have an escape plan. That is, plan for a bit of escape in the form of pleasure and comforting activities. You need to balance sadness with enjoyment however you like to create that. And yes, it is fine to turn off the holiday music, TV, or annoying people. Find something else to help you tap into the love and kindness that is your well-spring any time of the year.

If you know someone who may be missing a loved one, simply inviting them to share their thoughts and feelings without trying to ‘fix’ them is a real gift.

Many feel they cannot share their sadness, as it isn’t ‘fitting’ with the season of happiness and joy.  Listen to them and honor their feelings. Letting them know they are normal even if they feel ‘out of it’ can be invaluable support for them. If you ask them to share some of their memories of the person or holidays past, it may bring up a tear or two, but it will surely affirm the value of their loved one and offer a treasured opportunity to share that with someone who cares.

The holidays during a time of loss can be devastating. But make a plan for handling people, give yourself plenty of down time, and remember that traditions altered are not traditions abandoned. And in all things be patient with yourself. This, too, shall pass.

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Our deepest thanks to Sally Carey, and many prayers for everyone working through grief, just trying to make it through December.

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Life, Death, and the Sex License

By Piper Bayard

Themes of death and birth, that cycle of apocalypse and renewal, surrounded me this week. A dear friend’s father died, a good soul who made the planet better by his presence. Another friend hit the magic 28 weeks and breathed a sigh of relief that her unborn child now has the odds in his favor. And in our house? My 9th grade son, who I could swear just started walking yesterday, applied for his Sex License.

 

Canstock photo -- Not my son.

Canstock photo — Not my son.

 

“So Mom. How old is old enough to have sex?”

I’m well aware that almost any religion on the planet would offer a moral answer to that question. I’m also aware that the guiding light of morals tends to dim in the dashboard lights. I mean, think about it. How many “good kids” did you know in high school who lost “it” at church camp or spawned prom babies because THEY would never do THAT? I needed to give him something real. Something tangible. So I said what I think most parents would say in my shoes.

“Uuuuhhh . . .”

“I get my Learner’s Permit at 15.”

“Not fifteen!”

“Well, I get my Driver’s License at 16, and driving a car is a serious responsibility.”

“A car doesn’t get pregnant when you drive it. And you don’t get hepatitis or AIDS from a car.”

“So Mom, how old is old enough?”

“Well, you know you can have a baby every time you have sex, even with birth control. I mean, have you noticed your little sister running around here? Latex loophole baby.”

“Eeewww! Maaahm!”

“Hey. You opened the door for that one.”

So we talked about sex. We noted how young men are most biologically suited for killing bears and starting families. I commiserated with him about how the modern economics of supporting families are out of sync with natural urges and the sight of teen girls in mini-skirts. We pondered the fact that the most important decision he will make in life is choosing the mother of his children. And I can hear some of you dear readers now . . .

“He asked his mother? He needs to talk to his dad. His dad will set him straight.”

I’m sure his dad WOULD give him a different answer. And my writing partner, Jay Holmes? Let’s just say he’s been a student of sex, C4, and hollow points for a very long time, so it’s safe to assume he won’t be backing me up on this one.

But as I studied my man-child and tried to give him real world answers to his real life questions, at least from a mother’s perspective, I realized something. Life so loves Itself that no amount of death can discourage it for long. At least not while there are teenage boys, and girls in mini-skirts.

The Pool Walker’s Creed

By Piper Bayard

Long ago, Holmes and I discussed the fact that we’re no good to each other dead. As we age, we have to work a little harder at that not getting dead thing than we used to. So we agreed that our bare minimum fitness requirements demand that we walk at least one mile every day. For Holmes, that translates into a 12-mile vertical hike. For me, that translates into . . . walking at least one mile a day.

I don’t talk much about my health issues. Hell, they bore me. I can’t imagine that they would interest you. But as it’s relevant, I will share that I have moderate arthritis in my hip and back. “Moderate” means enough to hurt all the time, but not enough to take any permanent surgical measures. It also means that I am genuinely in the “move it or lose it” stage of life, and sometimes, walking my mile is an agony. As a result, I have become that which I used to dread. A pool walker.

 

Pool Walker. Not me. She would kick my butt.

Pool Walker. Not me. She would kick my butt.

 

The gyms I go to always seem to have those windows in the workout room that look out over the pool. I can’t pretend to know what everyone thinks when they’re climbing their mountains on their stair steppers and ellipticals, but I was once guilty of gazing out at that pool and thinking, “I’m working hard to put off the day when I, too, will be a heavy-set blue hair who can do no more than walk around the lazy river.” Ah, the vanity of ignorant youth!

Then came injuries and age, and I found out first hand that deterioration comes to us all. We can only hope that we live in such a way that character and wisdom balance us when we lose the ability to Salsa all night in high heels.

Fancying myself to be someone who always does what she must, I swallowed my pride, put on my mom-style swimsuit, and went to a pool walker class. What I found was that it stretched muscles I never knew I had. It left me sore in a good way, and nothing genuinely hurt the way it had for so long.  I also found that those heavy set blue hairs kicked my butt. They have to have some serious balance and poise to do all of their calisthenics against the current. Shame on me for ever thinking pool walking was somehow a lesser fate.

I hate swimming. I hate swimming pools. I hate what swimming pools do to my skin and my hair. . . . No one sets out in life to be a pool walker. No one. We are all there because it is what we have to do to stay active, alive, and useful to ourselves, our families, and our communities.

So for myself, my family, and my writing partner, I take the Pool Walker’s Creed:

I will never quit. I will brave every child-ridden kiddie pool, every rude teen queen in a bikini, and every derisive glance from the young studs who are trying to impress the teen queens in bikinis. I will forge every toppling current in every lazy river if that is what it takes to avoid unnecessary pill-popping, surgeries, and deterioration, so that I will stay as strong as possible for my family, my friends, my partner, and myself. Because the only thing worse than working out, is not being able to.

What have you done to survive that you never thought you would do?

Coping with Holiday Cheer in the Face of Loss

By Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes

Today we are pleased to welcome Sally Carey. Sally is a veteran Bereavement Coordinator for Hospice of Covenant Care in Westminster, CO. She has served the populations of the Denver area, helping people heal from the loss of their loved ones, for over ten years. In recognition that the coming holidays are often the most difficult time of the year, particularly when we have suffered a deep and recent loss, we asked Sally to share her tips on how to make it through the holiday season.

Canstock Grief Statue

Ho, Ho, Hum

Coping with Holiday Cheer in the Face of Loss

By Sally Carey

The holiday season, under the best of times, brings it own stressors and expectations, which we have all learned to manage or mangle, for better or worse, over the years. Congratulations on learning how to keep a grain of your sanity intact, hopefully without leaving too many bodies in the wake of seasons past!

But what do we do when we’ve had some serious, life-challenging or life changing event like illness, job and/or home loss, estrangement, divorce or separation, or even a death, and the happy, happy holidays are assaulting us at every turn of the channel? I know the fantasy of a Hawaiian vacation or leaving the country altogether might be appealing, but most of us don’t have that option. We still have to figure out a way to get food and find shelter from the storm of good cheer while holding down the fort.

For the rest of Sally’s excellent guidance, come on over to our new site, Bayard & Holmes. While you’re there, remember to register. We would miss you if you were left behind.

Bayard & Holmes

Coping with Holiday Cheer in the Face of Loss

by Hospice Bereavement Coordinator Sally Carey

The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . Funeral Selfies

Funeral Selfies? Yes, They Do Exist

Proving once again that bad taste on social media has no boundaries. Apparently, taking selfies at funerals and other serious places like Chernobyl, Pearl Harbor, ad Auschwitz is the new trend.

Click on the title for the text version.

gFuneral Selfie

For the rest of the Mashup and the Campaign Style Question of the Week, come on over to our new site, and remember to subscribe when you get there. We want to bring you all with us!

Bayard & Holmes

The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . .

Funeral Selfies

The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . End of Life Care Machine

Just in case you don’t care enough to actually show up yourself, you can hire a machine to care for you.

Thank you to Angela Ackerman of The Bookshelf Muse for calling my attention to this further proof that our technology has outstripped our humanity.

Blogs and Articles in No Particular Order

In Stonycreek the Flowers Blow–Honoring Those Lost on 9/11 by Kristen Lamb.

I would also encourage you to remember those abandoned in Benghazi on 9/11/12. Their story has yet to be told. Benghazi: An Intelligence Perspective by Jay Holmes.

US Consulate Benghazi 9/11/12

US Consulate Benghazi 9/11/12

Via Kate Copsey — 10 Things Writers are Tired of Hearing. Consider reading this if you are interested in the care and feeding of a writer.

From The Onion–Poll: Majority of Americans Approve of Sending Congress to Syria. I know I certainly do.

The Wisdom in Compassion, a Matter of Nuance by KM Huber.

Tired of all of those silver cars on the road? Color is Coming Back by Nigel Blackwell.

Read first or see first? The Great Book vs. Movie Debate by Jess Witkins.

Challenging the Second “A” in A.A.

Wild Rider Susie Lindau takes us to Spain. Barcelona — Photographs and Pickpockets

Century-Old Message in a Bottle Found in Tofino

 94-year-old Fred Stobaugh met his beloved Lorraine in 1938. When she recently passed away, he penned the song Sweet Lorraine for her and entered it in a contest. Green Shoe Studio produced it. This is a brief documentary of Fred’s story–the actual song starts at 5:50. The commitment to love is a commitment to pain. Today, I raise a glass to all who have the courage to love.

Campaign Style Poll Daddy of the Week:

All the best to all of you for a week of avoiding creepy machines.

Piper Bayard

In Bruges — Movie Review by Bayard & Holmes

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

In Bruges was released in 2008, but it’s a favorite of mine and Holmes’ so we thought we’d share it with you. In Bruges is a drama about two hit men, Ray and Ken, who are sent to cool their heels in Bruges for a couple of weeks after a job goes a bit wrong. Here’s our take on this hysterical dark comedic drama. . . .

Bayard:

There’s a saying. Great characters make great stories. I have no idea who said it. Maybe I did. Nevertheless, it’s true, and In Bruges has great characters. Having spent my life around, shall we say, personalities, I found the characters in this movie to be exceedingly real and 3D. In fact, even the most minor characters, right down to the innkeeper, are deep and interesting.

The main character is a whiney young hit man with a conscience, Ray, played brilliantly by Colin Farrell. Then there are his mentor, Ken (Brendan Gleeson), who loves culture and is devoted to his dead wife to a fault, a superficially classy, but loyal, cocaine dealer love interest (Clemence Poesy), and an opinionated, racist dwarf (Jordan Prentice). Stir that up with the Belgian arms dealer boss (Ralph Fiennes) who operates from his parlor and would die for his principles, and you’d have to be blind, deaf, drunk, stoned and stupid to not get a story out of it.

As in every great story, questions arise because of these characters. Are there folks who need a good killing? Whose life is worth dying to save? When is a debt paid, and what coin is too high to pay it? And the most near and dear to my heart, is there redemption for the worst of us, and what does that even mean? In Bruges wraps these deepest of questions in humor as dark and satisfying as bittersweet chocolate.

My favorite quote is from Ray. “Prison… death… didn’t matter. Because at least in prison and at least in death, you know, I wouldn’t be in &#%in’ Bruges.”

This movie is rated “R” for good reasons. Sex, drug use, violence, and language that would curl the hair on a sailor’s toes. In fact, if you enjoy sitting through this movie with your young people, please seek out professional help immediately.

A hit man, a coke dealer, and a dwarf go into this bar . . .

Holmes:

I saw this movie in the company of three picky movie goers. All four of us felt that it was well worth the time and cost to see it. This movie is a dark comedy that relies more on creativity and a great script than on raw “darkness” to achieve its mood. It’s almost inaccurate to list this movie as a dark comedy; it’s a movie that stands nearly alone as “type” goes. Writer/director Martin McDonagh did not bother staying within the normal boundaries or using traditional, standard elements to create a great story. I’m glad he didn’t.
 
The production quality was excellent. The camera work and lighting were brilliant. The director and crew did a great job of taking advantage of the ambiance of Bruges, and the acting was outstanding all the way around. The movie is a bit on the raw side, so you might not want to bring your grandmother or children under the age of fifteen to see it. If the close up violence, the brief sex, and the generous cursing don’t disturb you, then you will likely enjoy this movie.
 
 
Ken and Ray. What to do in Bruges?
 
In Bruges is full of interesting and/or funny characters. One of the best scenes involved a snotty ticket vendor. Anyone who has played tourist has met this fellow in one form or another and will likely enjoy the outcome of the scene. It’s an outcome you may have contemplated a few times, yourself.
 
We both loved this movie and have no reservations in assigning it our top rating, a “.44 Mag,” which means we call it a Must See. If you can handle the sex/violence/language aspects, that is. (Click here for our movie rating system.) We rarely watch the same movie twice, but we will both definitely see this movie again.
 
Have you seen In Bruges? What did you think of it? Are there any other movies you’d like to have reviewed by a spook and a belly dancer?
 
 
All the best to all of you for an experience in Bruges.
 

With This Moment

By Piper Bayard

My teenage baby had her first life setback this week in the form of a blown out knee. Physically, her path will not be a mystery. Surgery, rehab, and a new talent for predicting the weather. Emotionally, she will learn that we can’t control everything, and whining doesn’t change anything. Good life lessons to learn when one has a lifetime to practice them.

Cancer taught me those lessons in my youth, but because I lived, it was one of the greatest gifts of my life. I know what my time is worth.

Hourglass

Angelina Jolie brought cancer to the forefront this past week by having a double mastectomy based on genetic testing. Many people are judging her harshly for parting with healthy parts, while others are reading her story and finding the strength to let go of some parts in their own bids for life. After all, Angelina hardly needs breasts to be a whole woman.

As this debate was going down in social media, my own friend, Susie Lindau, told me she was just diagnosed with breast cancer. I advised her as I would Angelina if that icon suddenly turned into someone who gave a damn what I thought. “This is YOUR journey. You get to do it YOUR way.” One of the lessons I was blessed with on my own path.

But sometimes, the lessons of a lifetime don’t come with a lifetime to live them. Sometimes, the lessons only lead to good-byes.

Zach Sobiech, age 18, died of cancer on Monday. I can’t help but think the question . . . Why him and not me? Cancer taught me that some questions have no answers, but they can still lead to conclusions. My conclusion? We have this moment. What we do with it is ours alone to answer for.

Zach Sobiech lived his lessons and used his moment to say good-bye to the people he loved in the form of a song.

Today, I raise a toast to those who live their lessons in this moment. May we all fly a little higher.

The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . Surround Sound Coffins

I’m thinking the Swedes have a lot of time on their hands during those long winter nights.

No Rest for the Dead with Surround Sound Coffins

Coffin Robert Lawton wikimedia

image by Robert Lawton, wikimedia commons

For the full story, click on the title above.

My thanks to funny lady Leanne Shirtliffe for this tip. I recommend her new book, Don’t Lick the Minivan, at her site at Leanne Shirtliffe ~ Ironic Mom.

Blogs and Articles in No Particular Order

We have a bold move to make us smile. This man wanted a job on Wall Street. His qualifications? ” . . . I have no unbelievably special skills . . . ” But he does have moxy. Cover Letter from Average Joe Earns Praise on Wall Street

And then there are those who just want the paycheck and aren’t interested in working. Via best selling author Larry Enright, the Story of a Man Who Outsourced his Work to China so He Could Watch Cat Videos All Day. You can find Larry’s outstanding books at Larry Enright.

Grumpy Cat Stupid Alternative

From top literary agent, Chip MacGregor, How Reading Shakespeare and Wordsworth Offer Better Therapy than Self-Help Books.

An eloquent reminder that being physically present with our children is not the same as being present with our children. How to Miss a Childhood by Hands Free Mama.

Once again, soon-to-be best selling author Susan Spann freely shares her publishing attorney expertise at Chiseled in Rock. More Than You Bargained For: Contracts Up Close & Personal

A voice from the past. 100-Year-Old Photos Found in Antique Camera

For twelve years now, people have been simultaneously taking off their pants to ride the subway. The No Pants Subway Ride started by Improv Everywhere now has participants as far away as Mexico City and Stockholm. This is their video of the 2013 event in New York City.

As you can see, I learned how to frame questions from all of those damn political fliers that won’t stop showing up in my mailbox.

All the best to all of you for a week of pleasant music.

Piper Bayard–The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse

Hospice: Telling People I See Their Butts

By Piper Bayard

Someone recently asked me what I do as a Hospice volunteer, and I told her that basically, it’s my job to tell people I see their butts.

Hospice is a service dedicated to providing people with the most comfortable death possible. We tend to physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients who usually have less than six months to live. We call ourselves midwives because each of us has felt that overlap between this life and the next as heaven opens to receive its newest child.

image by I. Craig, wikimedia commons

When I first told my friends I was training for Hospice, I got a number of reactions.

1. Uhmm . . . Better you than me.

2.  Wow. I could never do that.

3.  She’s such a Drama Queen that should be perfect for her. (Said behind my back by a catty belly dancer and passed on to me by another catty belly dancer.)

Most often, though, I got a mystified look and a disbelieving shake of the head with the question, “Why?”

The smartass answer? Because it’s easier to deal with dying people than with my teens. Dying people are a temporary commitment, but my teens want to hang out on my couch and eat my groceries forever.

The real answer? Because when my mother was dying, I was all she had. Since my children were young, I couldn’t be with her at the nursing home more than a few hours a day. I really wished someone could sit with her when I couldn’t. So after she died, I realized that was something I could give to someone else.

One thing I’ve learned from my work is that dying people tell the best stories. They are a hoot. I’ll be talking with a woman who looks like the quintessential grandma. You know, the kind that bakes cakes that really do look like Thomas the Tank Engine and flinches at the word “sex” because she couldn’t possibly have ever had it. No grandma ever has, right?

So I’ll be talking to this grandma with wise eyes and perfectly coiffed hair, except for that messy spot that mushes up against her pillow, and she will tell me some crazy stories from the youth her family never knew she had. She thought she was so smart at fourteen, smoking in the bathroom and blowing it out the window, until she opened the door to find her father standing there. She stole away from home at seventeen to elope with a boy, only to jump out of the car at the Washita bridge in the middle of the night and run all the way home, still single. At forty, she and her friend got a wild hair one day and did a “Thelma and Louise” cross-country, but without the flying leap at the end. Ten days later, their husbands both took them back.

image from “Thelma and Louise”

And then there are the other stories. How her mother and father stopped speaking after that night he came home so late, and the family grew cold and distant. How she regretted not marrying that man she left at the Washita bridge. How her husband didn’t really die of a heart attack like she always told the world, but that he committed suicide, and she never knew why.

As humans, we have a deep need to say, “Yes. I was here. Did you see me?” We need to know we did not grow and bloom and die in a vacuum. We need validation, because parts of us are like our butts. We can’t see our butts. We may feel them, but we need a mirror or a friend to tell us what they look like. As a Hospice volunteer, I give people the gift of letting them know I see their butts. Yes. Those parts of you are here, and I see you.

Today, I’m dedicating this blog to Teri Parks, who was born into a new life almost a month ago. She loved to laugh. Not only was she the best Mrs. Claus ever, but she also threw the social event of the season every 4th of July with a dozen fried turkeys, bubble-blowing guns, horseshoes, music, and 150 of her closest friends. The world is a little colder with her passing.

When I went to visit her on her last day, she had the greatest blessing a soul can earn in this life. A room full of loving family and friends, talking and laughing and remembering with her, confirming for her that, yes. She was here, and they saw her. All of her. And she was beautiful.

Do you have witness in your life who tells you they see your butt? Do you do that for someone else?

All the best to all of you for a week of validation.