What will you choose?

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You just received a phone call letting you know that your friend has lost a loved one. You now have a decision to make…What kind of supporter do you want to be?

There are many ways to support a loved one after a loss. As a friend you have the right to choose the most appropriate path for you in the moment. There are times that you may choose to be the best supporter you can be, and other times you may shy away from the responsibility due to personal circumstances or your own emotional pain.

Here are a few common ways people respond when they are called upon to support a grieving loved one:

  1. The Listener – The person that allows you to talk about your feelings without telling you how you should feel.
  2. The Doer– The person that jumps right in and takes care of everyday tasks. They bring you groceries, pick up your kids from school, they make sure people are notified about funeral arrangements and generally take care of those daily tasks that you are not up to doing.
  3. The Cheerleader – The person that lifts your spirits when you can barely get out of bed. They are there to get you out of the house and will take you on an adventure to brighten your day.
  4. The Brief Encounter– The person that comes to the funeral, sends you a card or flowers, but generally believes that grief ends at the funeral and there is not much more that they can do for you. Their support is brief but sincere.
  5. The No Show – The person that is not able to be supportive for their own personal reason. They may be uncomfortable with talking about death and loss or there may be life circumstances that make them unavailable.

As you travel through the grief recovery journey with a friend, you may find that you are all of these types of supporters and a whole lot more. Grief is not a linear process; it has many peaks and valleys. As your grieving friend’s needs change, so too will the type of support they need.

When choosing how you will support a grieving loved one, consider the following:

  • Lead with your strength. We all have our strengths that come out when a difficult situation arises. If you are a great listener, be a great listener. If you are a doer, help your friend with daily tasks.
  • Stretch yourself a little to learn more about yourself and how you feel about grief and death. You may find a blessing for yourself hidden inside the journey.
  • Know your limits. We all have our limitations and we can’t be all things to all people. Do the best you can in the moment.
  • Ask for help if you are over your head. A grieving friend may require more assistance than a lay person can handle. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your local grief support group or a grief counselor.

After losing many friends and family over the years, the one thing I have learned is that the right people show up at the right time. Often it is not the person we thought it would be. I have to admit that it took me some time to forgive those friends that were not there for me after my mother passed away. But I have come to realize that it is more important to be grateful for those that were there and understand that those that were not had their reasons.

The choice is yours…what will you choose?

© 2011 Lori Pederson

Lori Pederson, Founder of I Did Not Know What to Say, a website created to inspire and to provide you with tools to assist a love one through the grieving process. If you would like their free newsletter on how to assist your friends and family members through the journey of restoring balance in their life after the death of a loved one, please visit their website at www.ididnotknowwhattosay.com.

A glimpse of ancient funeral practices

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Throughout the millennia, world cultures have honored the passing of their beloved relatives and friends with countless unique rituals and customs.

In ancient cultures, such as Roman and Egyptian, one of the ways that families honored the memory of their loved ones was by holding special commemorative meals or bringing offerings of food to burial sites. In particular, the Egyptian culture is known for adorning the tombs of their loved ones and important people with numerous offerings such as food, furniture, decorative statues and other useful household items. They believed that the person’s spirit would need and use these items in the afterlife. Many of the objects and adornments inside the tombs, according to E.A. Wallis Budge in The Mummy: A Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archaeology, are related to food offerings.

As Budge describes, the Egyptians were talented artisans and created beautiful bowls, saucers, dishes, vases, pots, flasks, jars and jugs to be used for presenting food, oils, perfumes and libations at the burial sites of their loved ones. Throughout the years, these vessels were fashioned in many different shapes, sizes and colors using a variety of materials, including clay, granite, diorite, basalt, porphyry, alabaster, aragonite, steatite, gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood. A glass paste, comprised of a mixture of flint, lime, soda, alkali, manganese and copper, was also used to make vessels. The items were usually inscribed with names, pictures, designs and other wording to honor the deceased.

The Egyptians also adorned the inside walls of tombs with paintings of their loved ones engaging in enjoyable activities, which included participating in large feasts. During designated seasons and times of religious observances, the Egyptians would bring edible gifts to the tombs, believing that the spirit of their loved ones would partake of the refreshments.

Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die

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In America, death is often regarded as the classic Monty Python routine about the Spanish Inquisition. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapons are fear, surprise and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.”

Despite the fact that humans have a 100-percent mortality rate, we don’t expect to die. If you don’t expect to die, you’re unlikely to pre-plan a funeral. And that leads to problems like family discord, higher costs, meaningless rituals, and unnecessary stress added to grief.

We are mortal. Our bodies eventually stop working. Many religions teach that the soul, the spirit that resides within our bodies as long as we breathe, lives forever. So why do we have this fear of funeral planning?

I think there are three factors:

  1. People don’t plan to die. Modern medicine today has become so highly advanced; it offers the promise of extending life, seemingly forever. Yet, our life spans all have a limit; we all have an expiration date. Death is now perceived as a surprise, an emergency, or a failure of the medical profession, rather than a natural part of the cycle of life.
  2. People have lost that sense of what to do when there’s a death in the community. Our pluralistic society is a good thing in many ways, but when it comes to death, funerals and mourning, we’ve lost many traditions regarding the last event in the life cycle.
  3. “I’ll get around to it someday.” There’s nothing like attending someone else’s funeral to make you realize your turn is going to come “someday.” But then you get busy with life, and “someday” always slips away. Before you know it, someone dies and the family is left wondering what that person would have wanted for his or her funeral.

We put off funeral planning because we’re afraid. None of us knows for sure the date of our demise, or how it will happen. The unpredictability of our final deadline enables the postponement of undertaking this vital task.

But, just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead – at least not any sooner than you would expire otherwise. And your loved ones will be in a better position to deal with your departure.

Do everyone a favor and make some plans, and don’t keep them secret. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Gail Rubin is the author of the award-winning book A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and The Family Plot Blog.

It’s a new year. Why not turn over a new leaf?

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The term “to turn over a new leaf” is used to refer to making a new start, more specifically to describe changes in personal behavior that are made with the goal of being a better person or improving lifestyle. One way to make improvements this year is to learn how to better recognize and manage stress.

Stress is often caused by change. Even positive changes, like getting married or getting a job promotion, can be stressful. However, too much negative stress can become a serious problem. You may feel worried, angry, irritable or depressed. Stress can make it hard for you to maintain your focus on important tasks. And, it puts you at risk for physical ailments such as:

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Problems sleeping
  • Upset stomach
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Tense muscles
  • Frequent or more serious colds

Long-term stress is a challenge, and is hard to avoid. Death of a loved one, chronic illness, divorce, caring for someone with a serious illness, work or money problems are some of the causes of long-term stress. When you’re faced with one or more of these difficult issues, you can manage your stress by:

  • Noticing when you feel stressed
  • Taking time to relax
  • Getting active
  • Eating healthy foods

It is OK to ask for help. Talk to family members and friends if you feel stressed. If your stress continues or worsens, consider talking to a mental health professional such as a psychologist or social worker. They can often help treat these conditions with talk therapy or medication.

Many people experience short-term stress from time to time. It can be caused by issues such as having an argument, or by experiencing lots of different little problems during the same day (your alarm clock doesn’t go off; you get stuck in traffic). Sometimes it all boils down to having too much to do in too little time. Preventing and managing chronic stress can help lower your risk for serious health issues like high blood pressure, heart problems, obesity and depression.

Stress can be prevented or reduced when you:

  • Plan ahead
  • Decide which tasks need to be done first
  • Prepare for stressful events

Hopefully these tips will help you to enjoy a healthy and stress-free new year.

Pets ease loneliness

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Pets provide their owners with unconditional love. This can be especially helpful for a person who is depressed or grieving the loss of a loved one. According to the American Humane Association the human-animal bond has been a source of solace and relief throughout history for those who suffer from physical or emotional pain.

While pets are not a cure for depression, they can offer comfort and support when you need it most. Many experts agree that pets help ease stress. Simply petting your animals can be a soothing activity. One study says that dog owners exercise more often, sleep better and report overall better health. Other studies say that having a dog may be good for your heart health, and pets have been known to lower blood pressure.

Older adults often experience loneliness and lose the desire and ability to develop new relationships. Pets can ease that loneliness and provide you with a sense of purpose. Caring for an animal can increase the quantity and quality of social interactions amongst other pet owners. Pets provide people with an opportunity for an engaging conversation with someone new, possibly leading to new friendships and activities.

While dogs are great, they are not the only pets who can bring a smile to your face. Cats, birds, fish and other animals can also provide the emotional and physical benefits associated with pet therapy. If you consider adopting a pet for yourself, or for a loved one, be sure to consider the following:

  • Type of pet. Think about the type of activity level and commitment required to care for the type of animal you would like to adopt. Are you able to take care of a pet who needs to be walked, groomed, etc.? Keep in mind that younger animals – particularly puppies – require a lot more energy, patience and training. Many older animals are available at your local shelter, just waiting to be your special companion.
  • Time commitment throughout the lifetime of a pet. Depending on size, breed and health issues, dogs can live up to 15 years – some longer. Cats have been known to reach the ripe old age of 20. Do you plan to continue living in an environment where pet ownership is possible? Do you have a backup plan if you can no longer take care of your pet?
  • Allergies. Allergies to pet dander may pose health issues. Pets can also track pollen, dust, mites and other allergens into your home.
  • Cost. Owning a pet can put a strain on your budget. You need to think about what you can afford when it comes to food, grooming, vet bills and medications. Check with a veterinarian ahead of time to find out the cost of annual checkups, as well as care for health issues that may be common in the type of pet you choose. As with people, unknown conditions that require additional care are possible.

Positive attitude can combat colds

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Heading a mother’s advice to drink lots of fluids, get enough rest and eat sensibly isn’t the only way to stay fit. As it turns out, a positive attitude can also contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

Psychosomatic Medicine, the official journal of The American Psychosomatic Society, released a study that determined the more cheery and relaxed a person is, the less likely to complain about symptoms, even when they do not have a cold.

“Increases in positive emotional styles were linked with decreases in the rate of clinical colds, but a negative emotional style had no effect on whether or not people got sick,” according to lead researcher Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D.

The study monitored 334 participants over the course of two weeks and tested their tendencies to experience positive (happy, pleased and relaxed) emotions and negative (anxious, hostile and depressed) emotions. The volunteers were then given nasal drops containing one of the two rhinoviruses, a common cold agent, and monitored for five days.

“What we found is that the positive emotional style is related to whether or not people get colds,” Cohen reported. “The higher their level of positive emotions, the less likely they develop a cold.”

Cohen explained that people with positive attitudes showed fewer symptoms of illness probably because healthy attitudes tend to promote a healthy lifestyle. Those with negative attitudes may assume the worst of an indistinct sensation, such as a sore throat, while those with positive attitudes believe it’s nothing serious.

So, when sensing typical cold symptoms — such as burning feeling in the nose or throat, sneezing, runny nose or fatigue — follow the traditional formula for fitness, accented with a little optimism. A positive attitude can help ward off a looming virus and possibly protect against future sickness.

Hawthorne & WrenSM – your source for distinctive gifts.

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If you’re looking for the perfect gift, look no further than Hawthorne & WrenSM (H&WSM) at HawthorneandWren.com or www.HandW.com. The mission of this new online source of distinctive gifts is to help people find meaningful ways to support friends in need. H&W gifts can be purchased at any time, for any occasion.

H&W gifts are memorable, unique and sure to be cherished. From beautiful wreaths made of lavender to exquisite pearl earrings to delectable chocolates, H&W has something for that hard-to-buy-for person. If you need help choosing that perfect item, the Gift Finder on H&W’s website can help you. Is the person you’d like to buy a gift for passionate, spiritual, outgoing or intellectual? What does the person like to do? You input the traits; the Gift Finder helps you find the perfect gift. Of course, you may also browse through the entire site to see everything H&W has to offer.

The gifts all have a special significance and a meaningful story, summarized in the product description and written on the card that accompanies the gift. Both the recipient and the giver share in the emotional experience. For example, the Bay Wren Hand Blown Platter:

“As we walk along life’s path, we can feel the warmth of the earth beneath us and see the beauty of the blue sky above us. They remind us that we are surrounded by the wonders of nature. May this thoughtfully picked, hand-blown glass platter give you many moments of quiet reflection to help you feel the warmth and joy from all those who love you.”

Each gift comes packaged with H&W signature papers, ribbons and tissues. Chocolates, teas and dried fruit are contained in exclusive H&W tins. An embossed signature medallion and a strip of printed ribbon are included in each package. H&W is your gift company when friends need it most.

How to Create an Online Memorial

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If you are looking for a unique way to share memories of a deceased loved one, you may want to create an online tribute. These memorials allow family members and friends from near and far to share their memories while honoring a life well lived. Over time, the tribute can become a wonderful source of memories that will last for years to come.

Once you have determined that you would like to set up this type of memorial, start gathering information and materials you’d like to include. Keep in mind that not everything has to be added at once, and the site should allow others to add photos and stories as well.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Compile all essential biographical data, such as birth date, death date, full name and places where the deceased has lived. Try to document his or her life without getting too caught up in small details.
  • Include a good photo of your loved one. This provides a connection for visitors to the online tribute. A range of photos to visibly illustrate the deceased’s life can also be used.
  • Allow visitors to upload and share photos.
  • Write the actual tribute. How would your loved one like to be remembered? You can use the eulogy from the funeral, memories, or your own thoughts about the deceased. Sharing a special story is often a great way to start.
  • Invite others to share their stories and comments. Ask visitors to share what they remember best about your loved one.
  • Consider adding multimedia items such as video, audio and photo albums. We recommend keeping the size of video files to a minimum so that it is quick and easy for visitors to download.

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