Center for Loss & Life Transition https://www.centerforloss.com Bring Dr. Wolfelt to Your Community Fri, 18 Aug 2017 20:55:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Healing Your Grief About Getting Older – Age Brilliantly https://www.centerforloss.com/2017/08/healing-grief-getting-older-age-brilliantly/ Wed, 16 Aug 2017 14:36:10 +0000 https://www.centerforloss.com/?p=9970 An excerpt from Dr. Wolfelt’s book “Healing Your Grief About Getting Older” has been highlighted by Age Brilliantly. Find the link here.   

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An excerpt from Dr. Wolfelt’s book “Healing Your Grief About Getting Older” has been highlighted by Age Brilliantly. Find the link here. 

 

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Australia Funeral Service makes use of Dr. Wolfelt’s teaching to advocate for the Importance of Meaningful Funerals. https://www.centerforloss.com/2017/08/australia-funeral-service-makes-use-dr-wolfelts-teaching-advocate-importance-meaningful-funerals/ Wed, 16 Aug 2017 14:28:04 +0000 https://www.centerforloss.com/?p=9966 The Australia Funeral Service is making use of Dr. Wolfelt’s teaching to advocate for the Importance of Meaningful Funerals by running a series of article in a local newspaper. The article will run every six weeks and help support the educational tours and discussions the Funeral Service continues to hold. Find the first article’s .pdf…

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The Australia Funeral Service is making use of Dr. Wolfelt’s teaching to advocate for the Importance of Meaningful Funerals by running a series of article in a local newspaper. The article will run every six weeks and help support the educational tours and discussions the Funeral Service continues to hold.

Find the first article’s .pdf here.

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Dr. Wolfelt honors Jan C. Scruggs https://www.centerforloss.com/2017/07/dr-wolfelt-honors-jan-c-scruggs/ Thu, 06 Jul 2017 14:54:17 +0000 https://www.centerforloss.com/?p=9696 This year’s Lasting Impact Award, presented by The International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association Education Foundation, was presented to Jan C. Scruggs, the driving force behind the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Dr. Wolfelt was Dr. Wolfelt is humbled to be quoted as part of the presentation. “The Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands as a…

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This year’s Lasting Impact Award, presented by The International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association Education Foundation, was presented to Jan C. Scruggs, the driving force behind the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Dr. Wolfelt was Dr. Wolfelt is humbled to be quoted as part of the presentation.

“The Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands as a symbol not only of the sacrifices of so many American service members and their families but also of the necessity of mourning,” Wolfelt said. “Profound loss requires profound mourning, and the memorial provides a sacred place for veterans, families and the entire country to gather and express their deeply necessary grief. I honor Jan Scruggs, who understood that our eventual healing depended on these polished walls of stone, forever etched with our pain.”

Read the full article here.

Find the video of the presentation here.

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The Paradoxes of Mourning: Part 3 of 3 https://www.centerforloss.com/2017/06/paradoxes-mourning-part-3/ Fri, 02 Jun 2017 20:27:44 +0000 https://www.centerforloss.com/2017/06/paradoxes-mourning-part-1-2-copy/ by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. Backtracking on the Route to Healing Paradox 3: Mourners must go backward before they can go forward. A paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory statement or situation that is in fact often true. The paradox of mourning we will consider together in this article might, at first glance, seem self-contradictory, but as I…

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by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Backtracking on the Route to Healing

Paradox 3: Mourners must go backward before they can go forward.

A paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory statement or situation that is in fact often true. The paradox of mourning we will consider together in this article might, at first glance, seem self-contradictory, but as I will reveal, it is actually a forgotten Truth with a capital T. It’s a Truth we must rediscover because it is essential to understanding how mourners begin to heal in the aftermath of significant loss.

After someone they love dies, well-meaning but misinformed friends and family members often tell mourners:

  • “He/she would want you to keep living your life.”
  • “Time heals all wounds.”
  • “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
  • “You need to put the past in the past.”

Not only do these oft-offered clichés diminish mourners’ significant and unique losses, they also imply that moving forward—in your life and in time—is what will ease their suffering. The truth, paradoxically, is that in grief we have to go backward before we can go forward.

Our cultural misconception about moving forward in grief stems in part from the concept of the “stages of grief,” popularized in 1969 by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s landmark text, On Death and Dying. In this important book, Kubler-Ross lists the five stages of grief that she saw terminally ill patients experience in the face of their own impending deaths: denial; anger; bargaining; depression; and acceptance. However, she never intended for her five stages to be interpreted as a rigid, linear sequence to be followed by all mourners.

Grief is not a train track toward acceptance.  Instead, it is more of a “getting lost in the woods” and almost always gives rise to a mixture of many thoughts and feelings at once. A feeling that predominates at any given time —anger, say— may dissipate for a while but then later return full force. Grief is not even a “two steps forward, one step backward” kind of journey; it is often one step forward, two steps in a circle, one step backward. It takes time, patience, and, yes, lots of backward motion before forward motion occurs

.

Going Backward Through Memory

For the survivors, the loss created by death is the loss of the physical presence of the person who died. In the physical plane, your relationship with the person has ended. And so you grieve. But on the emotional and spiritual planes, your relationship with the person who died continues because you will always have a relationship of memory. Precious memories, dreams reflecting the significance of the relationship, and objects that link you to the person who died are examples of some of the things that give testimony to a different form of a continued relationship.

And so you must look backward through the lens of memory. Talking about or write out favorite memories. Give yourself permission to keep some special belongings of the person who died. Display photos of the person who died. Visit places of special significance that stimulate memories of times shared together. Review photo albums at special times, such as holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.

In my experience, remembering the past is the very thing that eventually makes hoping for the future possible.  Your life will open to renewed hope, love, and joy only to the extent that you first embrace the past. Those who fail to go backward before marching forward after a loss often find themselves stuck in the morass of carried grief.

Going Backward to Tell the Story

A vital part of mourning is often “telling the story” over and over again. And the story of your love and loss is a backward-looking process.

You might find yourself telling the story of the death. You might find yourself telling the story of the relationship. You might find yourself wanting to talk about particular parts of the story more than others. Do you keep thinking about a certain moment or time period? If so, this means you should share this part of the story with others.

Find people who are willing to listen to you tell your story, over and over again if necessary, without judgment. These are often “fellow strugglers” who have had similar losses. Look for listeners who can be present to your pain without trying to diminish it, “solve” it, or take it away.

Because stories of love and loss take time, patience, and unconditional love, they serve as powerful antidotes to a modern society that is all too often preoccupied with getting you to go forward. Whether you share your story with a friend, a family member, a coworker, or a fellow traveler in grief whom you’ve met through a support group, having others bear witness to the telling of your unique story is one way to go backward on the pathway to eventually going forward.

Going Forward in Grief

I hope you are beginning to understand the necessity of going backward in grief before you can go forward. But as we’ve also explored, the going-forward nature of grief is itself a paradox. “Progress” in grief is difficult to pinpoint.  Grief is something we never truly get over. Instead, it is an ongoing, recursive process that unfolds over many, many months and years.

Something you can hold onto after you have put time and energy into your backward grief work, though, is hope. Hope is an expectation of a good that is yet to be. Hope is about the future. Going forward in grief means, in part, fostering hope.

How do you foster hope? You can write down your intentions for the future. You can make plans with friends and family so that you always have things to look forward to.  You can craft a vision board—a piece of poster board covered with photos and images that capture what you want your future to be like. You can make goals and achieve them. Start with small, easy goals that are only a few days out, then work toward longer-term goals.

And remember, as long as you are doing the work of grief—actively expressing your grief and living the Paradoxes—you are going forward in grief, even though it may not always feel that way. You may not notice that you are going forward as it is happening, but one day you will look up and find that you have indeed moved and changed.

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is a respected author, educator and consultant to funeral service. Among his bestselling books on grief is The Paradoxes of Grief: Healing Your Grief With Three Forgotten Truths, from which this article series is excerpted. He also advocates for the value of meaningful funeral experiences in his death education workshops across North America each year and conducts an annual training program in Fort Collins, Colorado, on the “WHY” of the funeral for funeral directors. The 2017 training will be held June 12-14. For more information or to receive a brochure, call 970-226-6050, visit www.centerforloss.com or email drwolfelt@centerforloss.com.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 edition of “The Director.” Find the .pdf here. Find the Part 2 here.

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Important Training Schedule Announcement – Updated! https://www.centerforloss.com/2017/04/important-training-schedule-announcement/ Wed, 19 Apr 2017 18:19:00 +0000 https://www.centerforloss.com/?p=9142 Great News! After some reflection and discernment, Dr. Wolfelt has decided to continue to offer his trainings into future years. As he noted: “I was humbled by the number of people who sent notes or called in to encourage me to continue my trainings anchored in the companioning philosophy of grief care. I still have…

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Great News!

After some reflection and discernment, Dr. Wolfelt has decided to continue to offer his trainings into future years. As he noted: “I was humbled by the number of people who sent notes or called in to encourage me to continue my trainings anchored in the companioning philosophy of grief care. I still have the passion for mentoring others surrounding life losses. We will convert to a Summer Institute (in Colorado) and provide a couple winter opportunities (in Arizona) that will allow me to have work-life balance as I continue to champion the importance of not “treating” people in grief. The responsible rebel— “one who challenges assumptive models surrounding grief and loss” will continue to work with sponsors for my on road workshops and offer the trainings my staff and I host. Stay tuned for the specific details related to dates and the specific trainings that will be offered. Our current list of training through 2018 can be found on our website.

“Thank you for your support of my contributions to death education and counseling.”

 

 

 

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In Praise of Slow Funerals https://www.centerforloss.com/2017/04/praise-slow-funerals/ Mon, 17 Apr 2017 14:58:03 +0000 https://www.centerforloss.com/?p=9115 by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.   Have you ever noticed that we are speed-obsessed these days, even though faster is often not better? A century ago, the Industrial Revolution brought about mass production and with it an emphasis on speed, efficiency, and productivity. Then came the technological revolution, heightening our ability to work faster, travel…

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by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

Have you ever noticed that we are speed-obsessed these days, even though faster is often not better?

A century ago, the Industrial Revolution brought about mass production and with it an emphasis on speed, efficiency, and productivity. Then came the technological revolution, heightening our ability to work faster, travel faster, communicate faster. We have come not just to want but to expect instant gratification—same-day delivery, always-on cell phones, e-mail in a second, fast-casual food prepared before our very eyes, and instant credit.

There is much to celebrate in our progress, of course. Technology has improved our length and quality of life in many ways. But along the way, we forgot to hold onto much of our hard-won, ancient wisdom about loss, grief, and healing. Death and grief rituals used to be given the time and attention they needed and deserved. Multi-day wakes followed by full funerals complete with processions, committals, and extended family gatherings were once typical. Mourning rituals, too, were extended and socially recognized. In short, the death of someone loved was treated as the devastating, life-altering, and time-consuming transition it naturally is.

In recent years I’ve been noticing that in other life arenas, movements are underway to restore many of the good things that were waylaid during our dizzying decades of progress. The slow food movement, for example, seeks to expose the hazards of globally sourced foods, restore our connection to how and where our food is grown, and resurrect the sustainable, healthy, and community- enhancing farm-to-table practices of days gone by.

In urban design, we are looking to the past at community-building principles like walkability, human scale, front porches, and public gathering spaces. The goal now is to create new cities that blend modern technology with the livability of old cities.

And in retail, big box stores may be going the way of the dodo. We are reconsidering our habits of shopping at discount stores and online for cheap, generic goods. Instead, we are increasingly spending money on local, artisanal products that are not only more beautiful and interesting but also better support the communities in which we live.

Similarly, the time is right, I believe, to get behind what I’ve coined the Slow Grief movement. It acknowledges that loss is as much a part of the human experience as love. It recognizes that loss changes us forever and that grief is a normal, necessary, and, yes, ssslllooowww process. It also proclaims the need for people to express their grief and to be supported by their communities. And it asks us to look to the past to recapture the healing wisdom and customs we have almost lost, including the multi-day funeral.

As gatekeepers of the funeral, funeral directors are essential to the Slow Grief movement. In fact, you are the vanguard of the movement, standing as you do at the entrance gates of grief and the journey to healing.

I hope you will join me in educating families about the importance of the full funeral, complete with all its elements. A full, personalized funeral is a meaningful funeral that helps families mourn well. It creates a tapestry of authentic experience. It sets mourners on a good path toward healing.

I hope you will help create a funeral home culture that appreciates that slower is better. Grieving families need time for education and discussion during the arrangement conference. Grieving families need time to be listened to, without an agenda of completing paperwork or ticking off items on a checklist. Grieving families need ample time and opportunities to be with the body, including before and during cremation. Grieving families need encouragement and the grace of never feeling rushed during the funeral process so that they can experience their natural grief and mourn openly whenever the need arises. Grieving families need to be wrapped in ritual and care so that they feel supported and guided during those difficult first days, when everyday words are inadequate and they’re unsure how to proceed. Grieving families also need reliable and ongoing aftercare that affirms their need to continue to mourn in the months and years ahead.

As you can see, the Slow Funeral is a key component of the Slow Grief movement. Unless you help the families you serve slow down, they will be at risk for mistaking efficiency for effectiveness. They will proceed as if faster is better at a time when what they really need is to slow down and suspend. In part, your role is to be a yield sign when they are hurrying to green light the funeral. Step into your gatekeeper role and help families slow down. They will benefit, and so will our society as a whole.

I hope you and your funeral home will join me in the Slow Grief movement.  If you’d like to share with me your ideas or practices for fostering Slow Funerals, I invite you to email me at DrWolfelt@centerforloss.com.

 

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is a respected author, educator, and consultant to funeral service. He advocates for the value of meaningful funeral experiences in his workshops across North America each year. For more information, call the Center for Loss at 970.226.6050 or visit www.centerforloss.com.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 edition of “The Director.” Find the PDF here.

 

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Watch your words: The importance of semantics in funeral service https://www.centerforloss.com/2017/04/watch-words-importance-semantics-funeral-service/ Thu, 13 Apr 2017 17:04:24 +0000 https://www.centerforloss.com/?p=9093 by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.    Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from Dr. Wolfelt’s book, “Funeral Home Customer Service A-Z.”    Have you ever noticed the power of words? Well-chosen words give structure to an entire chain of experiences. To insiders, certain terms may seem completely neutral, but when it comes to your public’s…

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by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. 

 

Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from Dr. Wolfelt’s book, “Funeral Home Customer Service A-Z.” 

 

Have you ever noticed the power of words? Well-chosen words give structure to an entire chain of experiences. To insiders, certain terms may seem completely neutral, but when it comes to your public’s perception of funeral service, stay alert.

Let’s look at a few examples:

 

In taking information from a family member, a funeral service staff member inquires: “Where is the deceased now?” or, worse yet, “Where are the remains now?”

The person has just experienced the death of a family member. He or she is often in shock and hasn’t even started to absorb the reality of what the death means. Using terms like the deceased is not only impersonal and crude, but it also doesn’t assure the family member that the funeral home will carefully take care of the precious body of someone they have loved.

Instead, funeral service team members should say your mother or whatever term best captures the family member’s relationship to the person who died.

in arranging the time of the service with the family, the director says, “We have an opening at 2 p.m.” This terminology makes it sound like your funeral home has to squeeze the family being served in between other appointments.

When your schedule is busy, try something like, “Would it be convenient for the service to be held at 2 p.m.?” Or course, when you don’t  have other services scheduled, allow the family to suggest what would be best for them.

A phone call comes to one of four funeral homes in a company. The caller asks if the funeral hoe is handling so and so’s service. The staff member says, “That lady is not at this branch.”

Remember, you have funeral homes or chapels, not branches or facilities. A branch is something a bank has. Don’t make it sound like you represent a large, impersonal company.

In talking during visitation hours with a family member, a staff person mentions, “We have thee other cases in the funeral home right now.”

The words cases is impersonal, cold, and distant. Instead, refer to other services or families we are serving.

A similar example is when a funeral director announces during a clergy breakfast, “I’m sorry, but because of our busy caseload, some of our staff couldn’t be here.” Never use the word caseload. It makes it sound like you work in a factory, not a funeral home that serves families.

When explains the funeral home’s schedule of services to a visiting clergyperson, a staff member says, “We have three calls on the board right now.”

Calls on the board is impersonal and emphasizes the importance of numbers, not people.

A visitor comes through the door of the funeral home and asks if you have Mr. Jones. The staff person says, “Oh, he’s down in number five.”

When talking to family members, try not to refer to your visitation rooms just by number. A more appropriate response would be to say, “Yes, let me show you the room,” then walk the visitor to the room, making him feel welcome. Better yet, on the way, introduce yourself and find out who he or she is. This is not only an opportunity to make guests feel welcome, but to begin to build relationships with them.

In responding to a client’s quests about how buys the funeral home is, a staff member says, “Well, we do about 300 a year.”

It is easy to understand why a layperson would perceive this as an insensitive remark. A preferred response would be, “We are honored to serve around 300 families a year.”

Someone calls to learn if you are serving a particular family. The staff person answers, “No our competitor has that one.” The word competitor is not one you should use when speaking to the public. Many people don’t even understand what you mean when you say it.

Instead, if you know who is serving the family, tell them and offer to give directions if necessary. If you don’t know, offer to try and find out and call them back.

In talking to a visitor to the funeral home, a staff member says, “We have been working aggressively to increase our market share in recent years. We project a 10 percent increase in volume annually over the next five-year-period.”

These words, in this context, make you sound like a businessperson who is more concerned about numbers than serving families. Keep these kinds of comments behind closed doors.

We can probably think of other words or phrases (like bottom line) that can give clients the wrong impression of your funeral home. Please e-mail your examples to me (drwolfelt@centerforloss.com) when you get a chance.

You may also want to have a staff meeting to review the above examples. I would also suggest that everyone in funeral service try to was up on the use of industry jargon, even when talking behind the scenes to coworkers. That way you won’t be as likely to use that language unconsciously when you are speaking with families you serve or the people in your community.

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is a respected author, educator and consultant to funeral service. Wolfelt also advocates for the value of meaningful funeral experiences in his death education workshops across North America each year and conducts an annual training program on the “WHY” of the funeral for funeral directors in Fort Collins, Colorado. The 2017 training will be held June 12-14. For more information or to receive a brochure, call the Center for Loss at 970-226-6050, visit centerforloss.com or email drwolfelt@centerforloss.com.

This article originally appeared in the “ICCFA Magazine.” Fine the PDF here. 

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The Paradoxes of Mourning: Part 1 of 3 https://www.centerforloss.com/2017/04/paradoxes-mourning-part-1-2/ Thu, 13 Apr 2017 15:48:40 +0000 https://www.centerforloss.com/?p=9082 by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. Creating Hello Opportunities Paradox 1: Families must say hello before they can say goodbye.   A paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory statement or situation that is in fact often true. The paradox of mourning we will consider together in this article might, at first glance, seem self-contradictory, but as I will reveal,…

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by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Creating Hello Opportunities

Paradox 1: Families must say hello before they can say goodbye.

 

A paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory statement or situation that is in fact often true. The paradox of mourning we will consider together in this article might, at first glance, seem self-contradictory, but as I will reveal, it is actually a forgotten Truth with a capital T. It’s a Truth we must rediscover because it is essential to understanding how mourners begin to heal in the aftermath of significant loss.
Love inevitably leads to grief. You see, love and grief are two sides of the same precious coin. One does not – and cannot – exist without the other. Th-ey are the yin and yang of our lives.

From the moment we are born, we say hello to love in our lives by seeking it out, by acknowledging it when it unfolds, by welcoming it and by nurturing it so that it will continue.

It is essential for those in funeral service to understand that we must also say hello to loss and grief in our lives. To be sure, we do not seek it out, but when it unfolds, we must acknowledge it. I would even say that we must welcome our grief. We must say hello to it. The funeral, in fact, is an essential step in saying hello.

Yes, we must simultaneously “work at” and “surrender to” the grief journey. is in itself is a paradox. As grievers come to know this paradox, they can, very slowly, discover the soothing of their souls.

 

Saying Hello to the Physical Reality of Death

In centuries past, our actions and rituals made it clear that we understood the necessity of saying hello to the reality of death. We have always – even from the time of Neanderthals, anthropologists suggest – honored the body of the person who died right up until the moment it was laid in its nal resting place.

The body of the person who died was the focal part of the entire funeral process – from the procession into the church to the procession out of the church to the procession to the cemetery through to the burial. e body never for a moment le the family’s sight – or heart.

In recent decades, as you know, the trend has been toward body-absent funeral ceremonies. Today, bodies are often cremated immediately, often without loved ones having spent time with them or even having looked at them beforehand. While historically we understood the essential, universal need to honor and a rm the life of the person who died with the body present throughout the entire funeral process, now the guest of honor is o en missing in action.

People in funeral service understand that when you watch someone die, care for a dead body and/or visit the body of a loved one in an open casket, you are saying hello to the re- ality of that person’s death. In fact, I believe the more time families spend bearing witness to and even feeling the fact of a death with their own two hands, the more deeply they are able to acknowledge the reality of the death. at is why it is so critical to build in as many sacred opportunities as possi- ble for families (when culturally appropriate) to spend time with the body before cremation or burial, even if there will not be a public visitation.

 

Saying Goodbye

Grief never truly ends because love never ends. People do not “get over” grief because they do not “get over” the love that caused the grief. A er someone we love dies, we step through a doorway into a new reality, but we never fully close and lock the door behind us.

People often think of the funeral as a time of saying good-bye to the person who died, but that’s largely inaccurate. You see, the funeral takes place so soon a er the death that grief and mourning have just started. At that point, grieving fam- ilies are just saying hello to their grief. At the time of disposition, on the other hand, they are also saying goodbye to the precious body of the person who died, and as I mentioned above, it is so important, when culturally appropriate, to fos- ter and encourage spending time with the body in the days or hours before disposition.

Eventually, though, people who and ways to say hello to their loss, grief and mourning, over time and with the support of others, will more and more come to find that they have ultimately said a kind of final goodbye to the person who died. No, they do not forget, get over, resolve or recover from the death – there is never true “closure,” but they become reconciled to it. Reconciliation literally means “to make life good again.” In reconciliation, they come to integrate the new reality of moving forward in life without the physical presence of the person who died. With reconciliation comes a renewed sense of energy and con dence and a capacity to become re-involved in the activities of living. There is also an acknowledgment that pain and grief are difficult yet necessary parts of life.

Along the road to reconciliation, if they are openly, honestly and actively mourning, they will be saying lots of hellos. Oh hello, this death. Oh hello, this thought. Oh hello, this feeling. Oh hello, this change. Oh hello, this me. Oh hello, this doubt. Oh hello, this new belief. But they will also be saying many good- byes. Goodbye, this voice, this kiss, this body. Goodbye, this routine. Goodbye, this me. Goodbye, this belief. Goodbye, this ever-present pain. Their hellos and goodbyes will overlap one another, with more hellos needed at the start of the journey and more goodbyes in the later days.

Still, remember that saying good- bye is not the same as “closure.” As I said, you never fully close the door on the love and grief you feel for someone who has died. But you can achieve a sense of peace. The days of intense and constant turmoil can be replaced by serene acceptance as well as days of love, hope and joy.

In funeral service, you can strive to help create as many hello opportunities for families as possible. The more they are educated about and engaged in the entire process and the more they avail themselves of all of the possible elements of ritual, the more they will be saying hello to their normal and necessary grief. In turn, this will help set them on the path to continuing to embrace and openly mourn their many thoughts and feelings in the coming weeks and months.

I challenge you to think of the funeral as an opportunity for families to say hello as much as or more than an opportunity to say goodbye. Embracing this essential paradox has the power to transform your customer service strategy and your funeral home’s role in your community.

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is a respected author, educator and consultant to funeral service. Among his bestselling books on grief is The Paradoxes of Grief: Healing Your Grief With Three Forgotten Truths, from which this article series is excerpted. He also advocates for the value of meaningful funeral experiences in his death education workshops across North America each year and conducts an annual training program in Fort Collins, Colorado, on the “WHY” of the funeral for funeral directors. The 2017 training will be held June 12-14. For more information or to receive a brochure, call 970-226-6050, visit www.centerforloss.com or email drwolfelt@centerforloss.com.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 edition of “The Director.” Find the .pdf here. Find the Part 2 here.

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The Paradoxes of Mourning: Part 2 of 3 https://www.centerforloss.com/2017/04/paradoxes-mourning-part-2-3/ Thu, 13 Apr 2017 15:21:42 +0000 https://www.centerforloss.com/?p=9074 by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. The Dark Night of the Soul Paradox 2: Mourners must make friends with the darkness before they can enter the light.   A paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory statement or situation that is in fact often true. The paradox of mourning we will consider together in this articles might, at…

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by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

The Dark Night of the Soul

Paradox 2: Mourners must make friends with the darkness before they can enter the light.

 

A paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory statement or situation that is in fact often true. The paradox of mourning we will consider together in this articles might, at first glance, seem self-contradictory, but as I will reveal, it is actually a forgotten Truth with a capital T. It’s a Truth we must rediscover because it is essential to understanding how mourners heal in the aftermath of significant loss.

The International Dark-Sky Association is a nonprofit “fighting to preserve the night.” Recognizing that human-produced light creates “light pollution,” which diminishes our view of the stars, disrupts our circadian rhythms and ecosystems, and wastes significant amounts of energy, the association seeks to reserve the use of artificial lighting at night to only what is truly necessary.

As you read about Paradox 2, I would like you to remember this mantra of “fighting to preserve the night.” During our times of grief, we are also well served to fight to honor and preserve the sanctity and restorative powers of the dark night of the soul.

The Dark Night of the Soul

One way in which we used to honor the need to make friends with the darkness of grief was to observe a period of mourning whose length and customs varied by era, religion and culture, as well as by a mourner’s specific relationship to the deceased. During this time, mourners essentially withdrew from society. When they did venture out, they wore clothing that outwardly represented their internal reality.

Such mourning “rules” or customs were a way of acknowledging loss and honoring the need for a period of darkness. They were superficial signs of a deeply profound, spiritual crisis. In fact, a significant loss plunges you into what C.S. Lewis, Eckhart Tolle and various Christian mystics have called “the dark night of the soul.”

After the death of someone loved, the dark night of the soul can be a long and very black night indeed. Families struggling after a significant loss of any kind are inhabiting that long, dark night. It is uncomfortable and scary. It hurts. Yet if they allow themselves to sit still in the blackness without trying to fight it, deny it or run away from it, they will find that it has something to teach them.

 

The So-called Dark Emotions

Have you noticed that we tend to equate the dark with all things evil and bad, while light represents goodness and purity? Darkness is night, ghosts, caves, bats, devils and vampires. Darkness is also ignorance and void. And when we feel “dark” emotions, we mean that we feel sadness, emptiness, loss, depression, despair, shame and/or fear. Yes, the dark emotions are painful and challenging to experience. But are they really bad? No, they are not.

Feelings are not intrinsically good or bad – they simply are. They arise in us in response to what we are seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling in any given moment. They also emanate more abstractly from our thoughts. Feelings are essentially the bodily response to the existential experience of living and being.

And so it is normal and natural for mourners to turn to the dark emotions of grief. They must acknowledge them and allow themselves to feel them. In fact, I often say that we must befriend our dark emotions. Befriending pain is hard. It’s true that it is easier to avoid, repress or deny the pain of grief than it is to embrace it, yet it is in befriending our pain that we learn from it and unlock our capacity to be transformed by it.

Funeral directors can and do help by bearing witness to and normalizing expressions of this pain. When you create a safe, unhurried atmosphere for families to encounter the dark emotions in your presence, you are letting them know that their behavior – crying, keening, expressing anger or anguish, etc. – is normal and necessary.

 

The Darkness of Liminal Space

Grief lives in liminal space. Limina is the Latin word for threshold, the space betwixt and between. In funeral service, you help people who are in liminal space every day. They are unsettled. They are in limbo. Both their automatic daily routines and their core beliefs have been shaken, forcing them to reconsider who they are, why they’re here and what life means.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable being in liminal space, but that’s where grief takes mourners. Without grief, they wouldn’t go there. But it is only in liminal space that they can reconstruct their shattered worldviews and re-emerge as transformed people who are ready to live and love fully again.

 

The Light of Empathy in the Darkness

Funeral directors can help families cope during the dark night of the soul by employing empathy. But first, it’s important to understand the difference between sympathy and empathy.

When people are sympathetic to you, they are noticing and feeling concern for your circumstances, usually at a distance. They are “feeling sorry” for you. They are feeling “pity” for you. They may be offering a simple solution, platitude or distraction. Sympathy is “feeling for” someone else.

Empathy, on the other hand, is about making an emotional connection. It is a more active process, one in which the listener tries to understand and feel your experience from the inside out. The listener is not judging you or your thoughts and feelings. She is not offering simple solutions. Instead, she is making herself vulnerable to your thoughts, feelings and circumstances by looking for connections to similar thoughts, feelings and circumstances inside her. She is being present and allowing herself to be taught by you. Empathy is “feeling with” someone else.

In the time of darkness of the families you serve, your genuine empathy can be the candle they need to find their way through the early days of their grief.

 

Entering the Light

Paradox 2 says that mourners must make friends with the darkness before they can enter the light. But what is the light? There really is no set destination on the journey through grief. The light of healing in grief is not exactly like the light at the end of a tunnel. Reconciliation is the goal, but it is not a fixed end point or perfect state of bliss. At least here on earth, bittersweet is as sweet as it gets.

The Chinese yin-yang symbol represents the duality of many experiences in life. The shape of the symbol is a perfect circle – in other words, a unified whole. But making up the circle are two comma shapes – one black (the yin) and one white (the yang). And within each comma shape is a dot of the opposite color.

The symbol is a visual reminder that everything comprises both darkness and light. Yet the darkness and the light are not opposing forces. Rather, they are complementary twins that only together form a whole. What’s more, the drop of white in the black yin and the drop of black in the white yang remind us that nothing is purely dark or light, good or bad. Instead, life is made up of people, places, actions, things and experiences that are mixtures of both.

And so, as you help families create meaningful funeral experiences, think of the light as the thoughts and feelings you want to project as possibilities for their futures. While the time of the funeral is a natural and necessary time of darkness, you may have opportunities to reassure them that there is love and life in the months to come. A meaningful, elements-rich funeral also upholds hope, gratitude, joy, love and peace.

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is a respected author, educator and consultant to funeral service. Among his many bestselling books on grief is The Paradoxes of Grief: Healing Your Grief With Three Forgotten Truths, from which this article is excerpted. Wolfelt also advocates for the value of meaningful funeral experiences in his death education workshops across North America each year and conducts an annual training program on the “WHY” of the funeral for funeral directors in Fort Collins, Colorado. The 2017 training will be held June 12-14. For more information or to receive a brochure, call the Center for Loss at 970-226-6050, visit centerforloss.com or email drwolfelt@centerforloss.com.

 

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 edition of “The Director.” Find the .pdf here. Find Part 1 here.

The post The Paradoxes of Mourning: Part 2 of 3 appeared first on Center for Loss & Life Transition.

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Dr. Wolfelt in the News: “Coping With the Death of Old Friends and Siblings as We Age” https://www.centerforloss.com/2017/03/death-old-friends-siblings/ Wed, 22 Mar 2017 17:32:21 +0000 https://www.centerforloss.com/?p=8900 Dr. Wolfelt is pleased to have been interviewed and referenced in a recent article by Debbie Reslock for next avenue.org. The article, “Coping with the Death of Old Friends and Siblings as We Age,” can be found here. 

The post Dr. Wolfelt in the News: “Coping With the Death of Old Friends and Siblings as We Age” appeared first on Center for Loss & Life Transition.

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Dr. Wolfelt is pleased to have been interviewed and referenced in a recent article by Debbie Reslock for next avenue.org.

The article, “Coping with the Death of Old Friends and Siblings as We Age,” can be found here. 

The post Dr. Wolfelt in the News: “Coping With the Death of Old Friends and Siblings as We Age” appeared first on Center for Loss & Life Transition.

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