Thoughts on Grief During the Holidays and Major Events by Jessamyn Putnam
The holidays are here, and whether it is your first holiday following the loss of a loved one or not, suffice it to say, this is usually a rough time of year for those grieving the loss of someone they loved.
So what do you do? While there is no “one size fits all” approach, grief does not take a sabbatical at Christmas, or weddings, or birthdays. First and foremost, allow yourself and others the right to grieve. Everyone grieves differently, and instead of telling someone how to grieve, allow them the freedom to grieve in their own way and do not take it personally. I have twin boys, and while identical, they grieve differently. One acts out and says mean things, the other just cries and cries with very loud, heart-wrenching sobs. I acknowledge their loss and give them space and forgiveness, while also allowing myself the opportunity to step away and cry my own tears. We can also be hard on ourselves, but this is not the time. We must give ourselves grace and space to grieve. Stifling or denying grief leads to unresolved grief which can cause physiological problems and make you physically ill.
Recognize and commemorate your loved one by saving a seat. Set a place at the table, include a favorite shirt on the chair, shoes on the floor, and/or photo on the place setting. Your loved one might be physically gone but will remain ever present in your thoughts for some time to come. Encourage family and friends to share their memories or stories. While a loved one might no longer be with us, it is important to remember the good times, to laugh about funny things they said or did, and to acknowledge that he or she is missed. Yes, there is a strong possibility of tears, but it is also a time for family bonds and bonds of friendship to grow stronger.
Know you are not alone. Friends oftentimes do not know how to respond to someone grieving the loss of a loved one. They would love for you to reach out and tell them what you need. At the same time, it is important for friends to offer specific ways of assistance – cooking a meal, mowing the lawn, folding laundry, a cup of coffee. Every day tasks can often feel overwhelming when someone you loved has died. Lean on your churches, funeral homes, hospices, and social/service organizations as many offer grief programs and/or assistance with daily tasks.
Remember to breathe. Take each day at a time. And save a seat for the one you loved.
©2019 Putnam Funeral Home and Crematory
This season is about Peace on Earth, but what about Peace of Mind? Believe it or not, talking about, or even better, writing down your wishes about your care after you pass, can contribute towards one’s peace of mind, the issue is breaking through our unease when we confront the idea of death.
Ultimately the issue at the end of the day is that we do not know what we do not know. It might seem easier to just to “let your family handle your arrangements” or to “just toss you to the curb.” While in writing that seems harsh, people have been saying this to funeral directors for years. The hard truth is that this approach fails, that this approach can cause emotional harm, financial issues, and create additional stress for those you leave behind.
Did you know that a Power of Attorney expires upon death, and if you did not leave written authorization, that it falls to your next of kin (a spouse with dementia, or biological children that were disinherited or can’t get along, or someone further removed from you) to make your funeral arrangements? This can lead to days turning into weeks, sometimes month, and a judge making the decision – this can drain your family emotionally and the finances of your estate. Or perhaps a disinherited biological child will step forward and make the choices that they want and choices that probably won’t mirror what you would have wanted. Designating an “agent of disposition” will alleviate this quandary.
Did you know that cremation is more legalistic in the state of Texas than burial? You can be buried within 24 hours and without a signed death certificate in the State of Texas. However, there is a 48 hour waiting period for cremation, the doctor must sign the death certificate and has up to 10 days in order to do so, your immediate next of kin has to sign a cremation authorization, and depending on the county you die in, there could be other required permits. This means that it can take 2-10 days, or even more, to be cremated, especially if your family disagrees as to burial or cremation. And don’t forget that you must either be embalmed or refrigerated within 24 hours. However, if you provide self-authorization in writing that you want to be cremated, then your next of kin does not need to sign a cremation authorization which has the potential to speed up the process. And if you include your wishes on refrigeration or embalming, that also removes a decision from the shoulders of your grieving family.
In my experience, families that preplan give a huge gift to the ones they leave behind. Now those family members might not want to wake up on Christmas Day to a stocking stuffed with prearrangements, but when the time comes to use them, they will understand and be immensely grateful.
What is motivation? Motivation is used to describe WHY someone does something. Of course, there are a mountain of studies and theories, but simply stated, there are many different forces that guide and direct us. If you look towards literature and the arts, you can simplify it even further. From the bible to John Lennon, it appears as if “there are two basic motivating forces: fear and love.”
Let’s put this into perspective and think about weight loss. Many people start their weight loss journey at their doctor or loved one’s urging to cure or improve a medical condition, thus potentially saving their life. They are motivated by fear – fear of dying, fear of winding up in the hospital, fear of something that only loosing weight will solve. However, once they reach their weight loss goal or receive a clean bill of health from their doctor, their motivation to lose weight and stay healthy is removed and many times, they revert to their unhealthy habits and regain the weight. What has been found is that although fear can be an excellent motivator, especially following a life-threatening event, it is too uncomfortable and emotionally draining for us to stay in that mindset for very long.
In other words, fear is not sustainable.
But what happens when, while during their weight loss journey, people discover things that they love? Perhaps they can run and play with their kids without gasping for breath or without pain. Perhaps their skin clears up. Perhaps they like how they look in the mirror. What happens when they fall in love with the results of their weight loss and improved health? When people replace their fear driven motivation with love driven motivation, then they are better able to sustain their weight loss and health.
In my role as a funeral director, I have seen a world of difference when someone makes funeral arrangements out of love rather than fear. Typically, those who are motivated by love plan in advance, include their family or even their friends in their decisions, and think globally instead of selfishly. On the other hand, I have seen those motivated by fear regret their decisions or make decisions based on prior negative experiences without understanding that funerals have changed and that their loved ones need some sort of ritual to build that positive foundation for grief.
So how can you approach death with love? At its simplest, by being prepared. By writing down your wishes. By securing payment for your funeral by purchasing life insurance, prepaying your funeral, or setting aside assets designated for funeral expenses.
You can also approach death with love by understanding that you do not know what you do not know and seeking out knowledge to make informed decisions. Knowledge is power and sharing knowledge is empowering. Did you know that in the state of Texas you can be buried within 24 hours, but it can take 2-10 days to have the legal authority to perform a cremation? Or that some cemeteries will allow you to be buried without a casket? Or that a power of attorney expires upon death so if you do not have an authorized agent of disposition and your spouse has dementia or your biological children do not get along that your disposition might be determined in court? Or that you can have a meaningful service that does not include a church or a funeral home or a major expense? Or that cremated remains can be made into bullets, tattoos, jewelry, coral reefs, paintings, or go into outer space? Incomplete information creates false expectations and negative experiences. Understanding the ins and outs of what happens when someone dies will enable and empower you to make the right decisions at the right time.
Finally, you can also approach death with love by being creative in ones preplanning approach and utilizing me as a resource and guide in helping you plan your final moments with love, so that your loved ones won’t have too.
So, what is your motivation? When it comes losing weight, finding a new job, getting married, having a medical procedure, or even planning for life’s eventualities – what is motivating you to make the choices you made or are about to make? Without motivation you simply cannot achieve anything. The next time you admire someone’s accomplishment, including your own, it makes more sense to ask WHY they did what they did instead of HOW because, when the why is clear, the how is easy.
Modified from a speech given by Jessamyn Putnam at the Women Empowering Women event at the Vineyard B&B at Lost Creek Ranch on November 5, 2019. Copyright 2019 Jessamyn Putnam.
Jessamyn Putnam at the Women Empowering Women event, pictured bottom row, second from the right.