Grief and the Holidays

Grief and the Holidays: Navigating the Season on Your Own Terms

Please listen to this recently-recorded Webinar created to focus on Grief and the Holidays. It involves the use of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or TAPPING. If you are unfamiliar with TAPPING, visit

To listen to the Webinar, click on this link:

I am a Grief Recovery Specialist; I’ve been a companion to grievers since 2002. I facilitate The Grief Recovery Method™ Outreach Program in groups or individual sessions. I am a Life After Loss Coach and EFT Practitioner; I work with people who want to create the next chapter of their life ~ after loss.


“Our tears are precious, necessary, and part of what make us such endearing creatures.” – David Richo, The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them

WGN radio acts as my alarm, each morning.

Today, I heard, “he needs to ‘man up’!

Mary Van De Velde ~ traffic reporter ~ repeated this phrase several times as the morning team of the Steve Cochran show talked about the emotions of Bubba Watson, Masters champion.

“He needs to ‘man up’ ”, she repeated.

Wow. What decade are we in where a man’s tears are something to ridicule?

“Watson had tears streaming down his face when he scooped (his 2 year-old son, Caleb) up, a prize as great as the green jacket”. (Daily Herald, Monday, April 14, 2014)

Tears are healthy and cleansing yet there are still many who shame a child (or a man!) for expressing emotion through tears.

A study published in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity found that “football players who cried about game outcomes reported higher levels of self-esteem. They felt secure enough to shed tears in front of their teammates and seemed less concerned about peer pressure. Social scientists have found correlations between men’s crying and their mental health.”

Tears are part of our feelings vocabulary and should be encouraged not avoided. What a model for Caleb that his dad expresses joy in this way.

Healing Grief, Finding Peace

“… monitoring the types of thought patterns you allow to dominate your daily inner monologue will either enhance or destroy your efforts to face difficult changes. Influence the unconscious by always communicating with it through the use of the powerful ‘I am,’ as in:

I am determined to persist.
I am doing difficult tasks every day without fail.
I am a committed and powerful human being.
I am making it.
I am good.
I am divinely guided and assisted.
I am getting it done.

Use whatever words are authoritative for you; they are powerful ways to dispel fear.”

Dr. Louis E. LaGrand, Healing Grief, Finding Peace: 101 Ways to Cope with the Death of Your Loved One

To read more about the work of Dr. LaGrand, visit

Living without mom …

“So who am I to feel alone, utterly sad, as if no one has ever gone through this?”
– Amy Joyce, The Washington Post Column, “Living without mom”

Amy Joyce writes:
Early last fall, my husband and I were driving into Washington after visiting family in Virginia. Our two small boys were in the back seat, already lulled to sleep after hours of playing with cousins. “You take Sam, I’ll get Jonah,” I sort of absent-mindedly whispered to Steven, making our car-to-bed getaway plans. I looked back, and the boys’ cheeks were glowing with the soft green light from the dashboard, both kids cozy in their coats, safe with their mom sitting right there in front of them.

It dawned on me then: I remember being them so very clearly. I remember hearing my mother’s voice in the front seat: “I’ll get the key and open the house.” Even though I couldn’t open my eyes, so tired from an evening of fun with cousins, I could picture her turtleneck, clip-on earrings and glasses reflecting the light from the dashboard.

My mom’s life and mine have finally dovetailed. Now, a mother of a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, I truly understand her.

But this was also the first year I had to live without her.

I’m a late-30s woman who has lost her mother. A mom who made it just past the age of 70, who actually got to meet and be a big part of all four of her grandchildren’s lives. That’s not tragic. That’s a life well lived. So who am I to feel alone, utterly sad, as if no one has ever gone through this?

There’s just something about moms, particularly when one becomes a mom herself.

This cancer thing had gone on so long, I felt as if the past eight years held a thundercloud of fear for me. What was I afraid of, exactly? I discovered this year — the year I had been dreading since her cancer was diagnosed — that without her I could be a mother, an employee, a daughter to my father and a wife to my husband just fine without her advice. But I couldn’t phone and tell her that Sam created a backyard fort today with his friend Claire out of garden stakes and the baseball blanket she had made him.

Shortly after Steven and I got married, I got a call from my dad. I was looking out the upstairs window of our newly purchased Adams Morgan house, sitting on the new blue quilt on our bed. “Your mother has breast cancer,” my dad said.

I started to ask questions: Has it spread? How big is the tumor? Radiation? Chemo? “Helen, she’s asking questions,” my dad said. She took the phone from him. Clearly, he had called instead of her because he thought it would be easier on her. But Mom was the one with the answers.

After a year or so of surgery, radiation, chemo and all the things that go with breast cancer, her doctor said she could take a break from treatment. And then Sam was born.

She was there in the first hours after he arrived. And she was back a week later, soothing him to sleep with every song in her endless songbook, telling me to get up and out of the house, walk around a little to push those baby blues out of the way.

Two months after that, I was sitting on that same bed, same quilt, looking out that same window onto the same pretty trees. The cancer had spread to her liver. “I just wanted to see my grandchildren grow up,” she cried to me.

That was the last time she really got that upset to me about her lot in life. And that was the first time I couldn’t breathe.

How could my life be my life without her? How could it be possible my children would grow up without this creative former art teacher, whose entire mission was to pamper and teach and guide those grandchildren?

My parents are optimists, and they love(d) life as everyone wishes he could. They never asked how long Mom had, because they were living every day as fully as they could anyway. So they traveled, biked, continued volunteer work, visited friends and family.

For metastatic breast cancer, particularly the kind that spreads to the soft organs, the survival rate is not long-term. My parents may not have asked, but Steven and I did. “Six months to three years,” the second-opinion doctor said. I never told my parents.

In 2009, Jonah was born during a snowstorm. Just a week and a half later, Mom and Dad made it here from Pittsburgh. I have pictures of my mom, the lady with metastatic breast cancer, years of chemo and a little fuzz of hair, up to her thighs in the snow, helping Sam make snow angels and paint Christmas cookies as we were getting acquainted with our newborn. I was frazzled and sometimes unbearably sad about her life ending. She was calm and, well, living.

Mostly, she was mother/grandma. She always feared giving advice, afraid my brother or I would get annoyed. I sometimes teased her for her guidance. She would say one thing, and I’d exaggerate it to make it sound as ridiculous as possible. It was clear she thought we were too strict with the “no sweets” rule with Sam. “If he had more sweets, he wouldn’t act so crazy every time he had a cookie,” she said once. That turned into “Mom thinks we need to feed Sam more sugar to make him normal.”

As things got worse toward the end of 2011, I visited almost every weekend, usually leaving my boys at home with Steven because Mom was too sick to be around them, and so I could focus on her.

The things that were so everyday for “the rest” of the world began to make my knees buckle. One of the last weeks before Christmas, I took her to her multitude of appointments. In one waiting room, we pored over an issue of This Old House and dog-eared the many things we thought I should do if Steven and I ever remodeled. She would never see my house again.

We laughed as we snuck that magazine out of the office. I still have it next to my bed.

Just a couple of weeks after that day, one we spent often in tears from laughing so much, we moved my mother into a hospice house.

Her last real role as my mom was during the final moments of our lives together. It was about five days into the hospice stay — and just like the length of her cancer, this had lasted much longer than any doctors expected. She wasn’t mentally with us anymore, agonizing noises coming from her mouth. My dad had told me that night that I had to go home to my own small boys the next day. “Who knows how long this will go on,” he said. “You need to go tomorrow.”

And so that Saturday night, around 10, I sat with my incoherent mom, my face just wet.

“I don’t know what to do, Mom,” I whispered. “Dad told me I have to go. And I don’t want to leave you, but the boys need me. I don’t know what to do.”

My dad and I left. As I was about to crawl into bed, the phone rang. I grabbed it before he could, knowing it would be the wonderful nurse at the hospice house. She had done her rounds a few minutes ago. Mom was gone.

It was her final, selfless parenting act. I think she didn’t want me to have to make the decision about whether to stay or go, so she made it for me, and helped me go be a mom to my own boys.

So here’s the thing. The funeral happened. The year happened. And I survived. I’m still a mom, a wife, a daughter, sister, friend, employee. I can’t get on the phone with my mom every day. She wasn’t here to help me make the boys’ Halloween costumes this year. We didn’t have our summer beach walks or our annual Christmas shopping trip, and I can’t ask her for advice that I will later taunt her with.

In the end, as she always did, I lived. And although this year without her has been hard and sad and missing something big, it has still happened.

When I started thinking about writing about losing my mom, I thought I would be able to fill pages with what exactly has been lost. But it sort of comes down to one thing that my wise 3-year-old said recently, when he didn’t want me to leave his room after a prolonged bath-books-bed routine. He grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go and whined: “But I want you forever!”

My 38-year-old self gets it. Really, kid. I get it.

Amy Joyce is a Washington Post staff writer.

Who was that?

“At its best, this is what death offers, a jolt that makes you look at someone you loved and wonder more carefully than you ever have: Who was that?”
– Mary Schmich, Columnist, Chicago Tribune

From Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich writes about her brother:
Seeing a Brother More Clearly

January 12, 2013
I miss my brother.

I’ve been staring at my laptop screen, trying to write something about what it’s like to lose a sibling, and the only words that come clearly are those.

I miss my brother.

Bill was the first of my seven siblings, just a year younger than I am, the guy who elbowed me out of the center of our parents’ universe. We grew up eating the same fried-bologna sandwiches, watching the same Captain Kangaroo, smelling the same Georgia grass, absorbing our mother and father from approximately the same angle.

We were different, though. I crooned along with the Bee Gees; Bill rocked to Led Zeppelin. While I was rehearsing with the pompom squad, Bill brooded over the charcoal sketches he made in the bedroom he shared with his four brothers. As I bought my first professional clothes, Bill grew his hair to his waist and moved to the Oregon backwoods to paint.

For years we rarely saw each other, and rarely talked, but shortly after I moved to Chicago, he called me one night.

“How would you feel about me moving there?”

Bill, the iconoclast? Wanted to live near me? He and his girlfriend, Eloise, found an apartment a block from mine on Roscoe Street. We had good times.

After that, our paths diverged again. He married Eloise, had two sons who are now in their teens, got a job on the website of a small Colorado newspaper. He worked long hours, lived in a small house, wore thrift-shop clothes and never found enough time to paint.

Then the cancer came.

Do you ever wonder who you would reveal yourself to be if you were dying? Watching Bill, I often wondered.

Would I be so gracious? So humble and tenacious? Would my first words to visitors be “How are you?” His often were, until he could no longer speak.

Bill hoped against the cancer until the end. He used it as incentive to make art, down in the tiny basement studio that no one was allowed to enter, painting even when his fingers were bloated and burnt by chemo.

After he was laid off a year ago, losing his income and his health insurance, he sought the sunny side: “Now I can call myself a full-time painter.”

The cancer took him shortly after New Year’s. He was at home. Eloise, who had nursed him as the disease stole more from him every day, held his hand as he died.

During my brother’s dying, I came to see more clearly who he was. Through his final time, we talked about our parents, novels, TV, music, religion, his love for his wife and sons, the importance of staying connected to your siblings. Though he lived on intravenous nutrition, unable to eat, he taught me his elaborate routine for properly buttering toast.

In his absence these last few days, Bill continues to reveal himself. Paintings of his that I’d never known about have turned up, showing parts of him I hadn’t glimpsed before.

The morning of his death, Eloise opened the door of his little art studio. Sitting on an easel facing the door was a surprise gift. A portrait, almost finished, of his younger son, the one he wouldn’t live to shepherd out of high school.

I miss my brother, the one I got to know better as he died, and the one I’m still discovering.
At its best, this is what death offers, a jolt that makes you look at someone you loved and wonder more carefully than you ever have: Who was that?

Stormy times

“I’m not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship”. – Louisa May Alcott

Love expressed; love remembered.

Shared post from

Thanks, Elaine!

Solstice Blessings: A Family Ritual of Remembrance and Love
Posted on December 18, 2012

On the shortest day of 2010 when my sons were home to celebrate the holidays, I took a clipper and cloth bag on my morning forest walk and gathered evergreen boughs and pinecones. I picked up small chunks of shale and granite and some acorns, too. At the house, I emptied my bag on the dining room table next to a few candles and a photo of my husband Vic who had died 18 months before. Then I waited.

“What are we doing with this stuff?” my son David asked as he inspected my treasure.

“I thought you guys might build an altar with me, maybe light a few candles.” I felt shy, afraid they would think my idea was silly or sentimental, but I needed to balance the grief I felt with Christmas coming.

“Let’s do it,” David said with his big hearted enthusiasm.

He called his brother Anthony while I laid a red cloth on a cabinet near the front door. Taking turns, we added pine and spruce branches and placed candles in front of the greens. We placed stones and then scattered pinecones and acorns, arranging things just so.

“And this?” Anthony asked, picking up the photo of his dad. I’d chosen a photo of Vic peering out from foliage. I found it in the back of his desk the Christmas after he died. It was the last print in a packet of promotion headshots that I had taken eight years before for Vic’s second book. Tired of posing, he slipped beneath the red maple branches and peered out at me.

“Let’s put the photo behind the evergreens,” I said, “so we have to pay attention to notice it. It will be here but not easily visible, just the way your dad is in our lives now. Is that OK with you?”

“Of course,” they said, so I tucked the picture behind the evergreen boughs. From the photo, Vic’s eyes gazed out at the three of us, the fourth member of our family circle watching from the other side.

“Let’s say what we want to release and what we hope for this coming year,” I suggested. “Or you could just light a candle and not say anything.” I still wanted to give them a way out.

Anthony went first, silently lighting a candle and wiping his eyes with his shirtsleeve. David was next, carefully describing what he wanted to leave behind and add to his life before lighting his candle. Anthony thought better of his silence and spoke his heart’s desire before he lit a second candle.

“It’s your turn, Mom,” David said. I took a slow breath and lit my candle.

“Fewer tears. More joy,” I prayed.

We repeated our Solstice Ritual of Remembrance in 2011. This year, I’ll add a Rumi poem that helps me feel connected with my beloved who is far away.

Your body is away from me
But there is a window open
From my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.

For more lovely missives about life, love, loss, visit

The quiet sense of something lost

Again at Christmas did we weave
The holly round the Christmas hearth;
The silent snow possess’d the earth,
And calmly fell our Christmas eve.

The yule-log sparkled keen with frost,
No wing of wind the region swept,
But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Be Patient Toward All that is Unsolved …

This is my “go to” quote when my heart is heavy or
I’m puzzling through something:

Be patient toward all that
is unsolved in your heart. And
try to love the questions themselves.
Do not seek answers that cannot
be given you because you would
not be able to live them. And
the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now. Perhaps
you will then gradually, without
noticing it, live along some
distant day into the answer.

-Rainer Maria Rilke


Many of us have heard the last 3 lines of this writing by Goethe on Commitment; here’s a longer thought about it:

By Goethe

Until one is committed,
There is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,
Always ineffectiveness.
Concerning acts of initiative (and creation)
There is one elementary truth
The ignorance of which kills countless ideas
And splendid plans:
That the moment one definitely commits oneself
The Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one
That would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision,
Raising in one’s favor all manner
Of unforeseen incidents and meetings.
And material assistance
Which no man could have dreamt
Would come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Begin it now.