Category: grieving

Gifting the Grieving

Gifting the Grieving

With December being here there are so many reasons to give people gifts so I hope over the next few weeks to give you some gift giving ideas for special people in your life.

Today I want to focus on those who may have lost someone they love this year, someone with whom they once celebrated the holidays.  How do you show care for them, respect the grief that they are sure to feel and express the love and care in your heart for them and their life.

First and foremost, show that you care. Continue reading “Gifting the Grieving”

What People Talk About Before They Die

This article was written by Kerry Egan, Specail to CNN. Editor’s Note: Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain in Massachusetts and the author of “Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago.” Sometimes things just need to be shared. And this is one of them. Thank you Kerry.

As a divinity school student, I had just started working as a student chaplain at a cancer hospital when my professor asked me about my work. I was 26 years old and still learning what a chaplain did.

“I talk to the patients,” I told him.

“You talk to patients? And tell me, what do people who are sick and dying talk to the student chaplain about?” he asked.

I had never considered the question before. “Well,” I responded slowly, “Mostly we talk about their families.”

“Do you talk about God?

“Umm, not usually.”

“Or their religion?”

“Not so much.”

“The meaning of their lives?”

“Sometimes.”

“And prayer? Do you lead them in prayer? Or ritual?”

“Well,” I hesitated. “Sometimes. But not usually, not really.”

I felt derision creeping into the professor’s voice. “So you just visit people and talk about their families?”

“Well, they talk. I mostly listen.”

“Huh.” He leaned back in his chair.

A week later, in the middle of a lecture in this professor’s packed class, he started to tell a story about a student he once met who was a chaplain intern at a hospital.

“And I asked her, ‘What exactly do you do as a chaplain?’ And she replied, ‘Well, I talk to people about their families.’” He paused for effect. “And that was this student’s understanding of faith! That was as deep as this person’s spiritual life went! Talking about other people’s families!”

The students laughed at the shallowness of the silly student. The professor was on a roll.

“And I thought to myself,” he continued, “that if I was ever sick in the hospital, if I was ever dying, that the last person I would ever want to see is some Harvard Divinity School student chaplain wanting to talk to me about my family.”

My body went numb with shame. At the time I thought that maybe, if I was a better chaplain, I would know how to talk to people about big spiritual questions. Maybe if dying people met with a good, experienced chaplain they would talk about God, I thought.

Today, 13 years later, I am a hospice chaplain. I visit people who are dying – in their homes, in hospitals, in nursing homes. And if you were to ask me the same question – What do people who are sick and dying talk about with the chaplain? – I, without hesitation or uncertainty, would give you the same answer. Mostly, they talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters.

They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.

They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not. And sometimes, when they are actively dying, fluid gurgling in their throats, they reach their hands out to things I cannot see and they call out to their parents: Mama, Daddy, Mother.

What I did not understand when I was a student then, and what I would explain to that professor now, is that people talk to the chaplain about their families because that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence.

We don’t live our lives in our heads, in theology and theories. We live our lives in our families: the families we are born into, the families we create, the families we make through the people we choose as friends.

This is where we create our lives, this is where we find meaning, this is where our purpose becomes clear.

Family is where we first experience love and where we first give it. It’s probably the first place we’ve been hurt by someone we love, and hopefully the place we learn that love can overcome even the most painful rejection.

This crucible of love is where we start to ask those big spiritual questions, and ultimately where they end.

I have seen such expressions of love: A husband gently washing his wife’s face with a cool washcloth, cupping the back of her bald head in his hand to get to the nape of her neck, because she is too weak to lift it from the pillow. A daughter spooning pudding into the mouth of her mother, a woman who has not recognized her for years.

A wife arranging the pillow under the head of her husband’s no-longer-breathing body as she helps the undertaker lift him onto the waiting stretcher.

We don’t learn the meaning of our lives by discussing it. It’s not to be found in books or lecture halls or even churches or synagogues or mosques. It’s discovered through these actions of love.

If God is love, and we believe that to be true, then we learn about God when we learn about love. The first, and usually the last, classroom of love is the family.

Sometimes that love is not only imperfect, it seems to be missing entirely. Monstrous things can happen in families. Too often, more often than I want to believe possible, patients tell me what it feels like when the person you love beats you or rapes you. They tell me what it feels like to know that you are utterly unwanted by your parents. They tell me what it feels like to be the target of someone’s rage. They tell me what it feels like to know that you abandoned your children, or that your drinking destroyed your family, or that you failed to care for those who needed you.

Even in these cases, I am amazed at the strength of the human soul. People who did not know love in their families know that they should have been loved. They somehow know what was missing, and what they deserved as children and adults.

When the love is imperfect, or a family is destructive, something else can be learned: forgiveness. The spiritual work of being human is learning how to love and how to forgive.

We don’t have to use words of theology to talk about God; people who are close to death almost never do. We should learn from those who are dying that the best way to teach our children about God is by loving each other wholly and forgiving each other fully – just as each of us longs to be loved and forgiven by our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kerry Egan.

The Editors – CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Death • My Faith

Grief, and a stranger’s words

After a loss, comes the day to day numbness.  The funeral is over.  The flowers have died.  The calls are getting fewer.  I look at the empty gift baskets and pile of stuff lying on the side that came in them.  Books!  I have no desire to read.  To ‘fix’ how I feel.  I know people are expecting me to move on.  I’m stuck in limbo.  Stuck in grief and I feel that fewer and fewer people care.  I am feeling so alone.  So I pick up one of these well meaning books.  I can’t focus for long.  So I look at paragraphs, rather than chapters.  Then I sleep.  Then I wake and I feel so alone again.  Over time I read more and sleep less.  Sleep is me escaping the everyday pain and emptiness.   I can read longer paragraphs, and actually skim chapters.  And now and again I find a nugget.  I find some ‘words’ that are so pure and wonderful from someone who has walked in my shoes.  I’m amazed that a stranger rather than a close friend can give me relief from my sadness.  I start to collect these words so I can visit them when I feel sad.  They are like a ray of sunshine each time I read them.   My collection gets bigger.  My days get easier.  Not easy, but easier… I’m so grateful for a stranger’s words.

“Miss Me” Poem
“Miss Me But Let Me Go. When I come to the end of the road, and the sun as set for me, I want no rites in a gloom-filled room, why cry for a soul set free? Miss me a little-but not too long, and not with your head bowed low, remember the love that we once shared. Miss me but let me go. For this a journey we all must take, and each must go alone. It’s all a part of the Master’s plan, a step on the road to home. When you are lonely and sick of heart, go to the friends we know. Bury your sorrows in doing good  deeds. Miss me but let me go.”

 

Cheese – PERLEASE!

Cheese – PELEASE!

 Did I ever tell you that Cheese is the reason I started Healing Baskets?

I still remember the day when searching for a special sympathy gift I was encouraged to send a basket of cheese.  Someone somewhere thought that a basket full of cheddar and crackers would be just what was needed to comfort someone in their darkest hour…..

Cheese – perlease! 

It spurred me on to create baskets that would actually bring comfort.  Baskets that were for women who had lost mothers, for sons who had lost fathers, for children who had lost grandparents.  For people who had lost spouses.  For parents who had lost children.  For people who had lost loved ones unexpectedly.  For people who have lost beloved animals.  Baskets themed around my favorite comforting poems.  Gifts sourced from a place of wanting that special gift that I was never able to find. 

We don’t’ sell tear collectors because we don’t believe the amount of tears you shed indicates how much someone was loved.   We do sell gifts that offer comfort and are lasting.    We feel like we are reaching out and grasping your hand with every order we ship.

Thanks cheese for putting me on this path!   You are responsible for Healing Baskets brightening lives one friend at a time.

Thoughts on Sympathy Gifts from Healing Baskets

It’s hard to know what to do when someone’s grieving. No matter how universal the feelings of loss may be, we know that we can never really know how someone is feeling. I think that’s why cards and gifts around death became known as “sympathy gifts”. While we can never completely know what someone’s feeling, our hearts ache for their loss when someone dies.  We know that, on some level, nothing will ever be the same for them. It’s like the thread to someone has been cut, and it’s just flying in the wind, not tied to anyone or anything any more. Sympathy gifts and sympathy baskets are tokens of love. They remind us that our threads are still tied to one another. That we’re not single threads leading from one person to another person, but instead, we’re a blanket built over a lifetime, with golden threads that weave in and out, through friends and relatives and loves and memories. 

Sympathy means so much more than, “I’m sorry.”  It means we’re connected, because once you have lost a loved one things are never truly the same and we now share that unspoken bond.   THAT is something uniquely beautiful and deeply, humanly personal. 

At Healing Baskets, we’re very blessed to carry that sympathy message any time you need to send it to a friend, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of a pet, a miscarriage, or whenever you need to say, I’m still here, and you’re still tied to me.  Our Sympathy gifts and sympathy baskets can be customized to share any message that feels appropriate to you.

To your peace and joy, Caroline Cheshire
Founder of Healing Baskets, Inc.

PS: To see some of the Sympathy Baskets referenced in this article, go to: http://www.healingbaskets.com/sympathy-gifts.htm