Losing a sibling: How to remember and recover

Sibling relationships are seldom simple. There seems to be a natural tendency for these relationships to be simultaneously loving and irksome. All siblings have disagreements and quarrels about silly things, but they are also quick to defend each other and are tied by a very special connection. Having such a close companion your entire life may make the loss of a sibling especially difficult. Even more so, there is a certain stigma surrounding the death of a sibling. Not being a spouse, parent, or child, some may think that the grief is less severe when the opposite might actually be true. You may be expected to take care of others affected by the death instead of taking time to care for yourself. Keep reading for comforting words.

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Respect your grief

As already mentioned, sometimes the death of a sibling can be swept under the rug. You may be busy taking care of your parents, or your siblings’ spouse and you may forget to take care of yourself in the process. Just as mourning the death of anyone else, the intensity and type of grief depends on the person and situation. Give yourself the time and space to grieve the death of your sibling in a way that suits you, and remember that your feelings are valid. Familiarize yourself with the grieving process and what you can expect following the death of a loved one. (Click here for 3 Common behaviors you may experience while grieving)

Deal with feelings of guilt or anger

It’s natural when a sibling dies to feel guilty or angry. Guilt can take many forms, be it survivor’s guilt, an unsettled argument, and many other possible reasons. The idea of survivor’s guilt is especially common among siblings, as they are normally close in age. Thoughts such as “I’m the oldest, I should have died first” or “He was a kinder person, I’m the one who deserved to die” are common examples of survivor’s guilt. While guilt is normal while grieving, long-term guilt can be very destructive. Try to let go of whatever guilt you may feel and focus on the good times you had with your sibling. Anger can also take many forms. You may be mad at yourself, your sibling for leaving you, or even God for taking your sibling away. This is also normal, but like feelings of guilt, extensive anger is not healthy. If you experience severe and prolonged anger or guilt, seeking help from your pastor or mental health professional may be helpful.

Celebrate through memories

Memorialization is an extremely important part of the grieving process. Memorializing someone ensures that their memory lives on for decades and generations, making sure that their memory never dies. Some good ways to memorialize your sibling include passing down special mementos, creating photo albums, or watching home videos. Some people find it helpful to continue a hobby or tradition that is associated with their sibling. Also, it’s important to talk about your sibling and share memories about them. At first this might be hard, but over time it will get easier. Talking about them often will help you heal while also honoring their memory.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Living alone after the death of a spouse

Marriage is a blessed sacrament for a reason. There is no substitution for standing up and confessing your love for another person, all while being showered in the graces of the Holy Spirit. It’s a very beautiful and spiritual experience to be married, which makes the death of a spouse even harder to experience. Marriage is the act of literally sharing your life with someone, physically and spiritually; so when a spouse passes away, it may feel as if a part of yourself has passed away as well. You may not remember what life was like before your spouse, and may be at a total loss on how to carry out your day to day activities. This is normal. Allowing yourself time to grieve and mourn the loss of your spouse is the healthiest thing you can do to assure a healthy transition to life without them. While no one grieves the same way, there are techniques that can help combat feelings of loneliness or desertion following the death of a spouse…

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1. Change can be good.

Living together, couples form certain systems and routines that they perform together, such as making the bed in the morning, going to church each week, or perhaps watching a show at a certain time each night. Immediately following the death of a loved one, and especially a spouse, you may have the tendency to hold onto certain items or routines that remind you of them. With the tragic change that is death, there is a need for certain levels of consistency and normalcy. There is nothing wrong with keeping certain things the same, but it’s also important to recognize that some new routines can be helpful. Whether it’s your morning or nighttime routine, your dinner routine, or even the way you make you coffee, if the old way of doing things doesn’t work anymore, change it! You might be surprised by how empowered and free you may feel with even the smallest of changes.

2. Supplement, don’t replace.

The loneliness felt after the death of a spouse can be hard. After sharing your life with someone and living with them, going home to an empty house at night may feel overwhelming. A great way to combat this feeling is to meet new people. Whether it’s reaching out to family and friends, joining a book club, or attending a Church group, spending time with other people can make you feel more connected and less isolated. While you can never replace your spouse, it’s important to remember the other people you have in your life as well!

3. Appreciate solitude

While it may seem contradictory, having some time to yourself can actually be very beneficial. It gives you time to learn more about yourself, and can open your heart and mind to hearing what God may be trying to tell you. There’s nothing wrong with spending some alone time to figure out who you are as a person, and find out what makes you happy.

Above all else, God is always there for you to listen and comfort. Just as he was present during your marriage ceremony, he is present with you always to offer his grace.

Information gathered from “Living Alone After the Death of a Spouse” by Karen Katafiasz

Post written by Katie Karpinski

3 things men should know about grieving

Grief is much like a natural disaster—it’s unpredictable and doesn’t discriminate. It effects men and women, young and old, rich and poor. The only aspect of grief that can be controlled is how it’s handled by the individual, and that’s where some differences can occur.
While society may be trending towards more accepting gender standards, men are still faced with the constant assumption that “big boys don’t cry.” While this philosophy may work well during a sports game, it shouldn’t be accepted in all facets of life—particularity in regards to grieving. Men have the natural tendency to downplay uncomfortable feelings, expecting the feelings to just go away if ignored long enough. In other cases, men may acknowledge the negative feeling, but still not partake in proper coping mechanisms. Instead of experiencing grief, they try to speed the process which is exactly what NOT to do when grieving. We all need some guidance when it comes to grieving– men might need a little extra. Take a look at these 3 things men should know about grieving. Whether it’s you or someone you know, these tips will assist in a healthy grieving process and hopefully bring some comfort.

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1. Grieving is a process

Men are notorious for finding quick solutions. They are fixers, it’s what they do. To have something broken for too long makes them anxious, which is why grieving can be so difficult for some. When you lose a loved one, part of your heart breaks. Unlike home repair projects, this damage can’t be fixed with super glue or a call to a repairman. It takes time. Grieving is process that requires patience, both with yourself and those around you. It’s important to slow down and understand that you cannot fix this alone, and it won’t mend overnight.

2. It’s okay to not have it “together”

Whether you’re a father, husband, brother, uncle, or even just a close friend, men are often seen as the primary defenders and providers for their family and friends. They are born into leadership roles, and because of this they have people depending on them constantly. This certainly places pressure on men who are trying to be everything to everyone. While grieving, life can become hectic and confusing. Even more so, the emotional and physical turmoil one experiences can be disorienting in themselves. You may feel bad if you can’t be that provider all the time, but do not feel guilty. Instead, embrace your humanity and learn to rely on others as they have always relied on you. Also, don’t forget to rely on God who will never forsake you.

3. It’s okay to cry

Men are taught at a young age that crying is not acceptable. This is mainly attributed to the connection of crying with weakness. However, crying is a sign of strength and courage. Tearing down those emotional barriers and unapologetically expressing your feelings is a brave thing to do. Even more so, crying can be extremely helpful in the grieving process. Crying releases endorphins which can elevate your mood and energy. Crying is also a healthy way to express sadness, anger, or loss—so why keep it in?

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski
Information gathered from “Handling Grief as a Man” by Bob Miller.

3 common behaviors you may experience while grieving

Grieving is a very difficult and personal process. It varies greatly from person to person, scenario to scenario. The way people handle grief is truly specific to the individual; however, there are some common behaviors and symptoms that you may experience while grieving. Understanding these behaviors can help you and those you care about handle grief in a healthy way. Not only that, but knowing that certain behaviors are common can help combat feelings of isolation or loneliness that often emerge after the loss of a loved one. Keep reading to learn more about 3 common behaviors you may experience while grieving.

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1. Change in lifestyle patterns

After the loss of a loved one, it is normal to experience some changes in sleeping and eating patterns. Perhaps, when you try to lie down and go to bed you are greeted with anxious thoughts, or when it’s time for dinner you don’t seem to have an appetite. Whatever the case may be, it is completely normal to have these patterns disrupted. If these symptoms begin to seriously affect your life, counseling or a visit to your doctor can be helpful. However, in most cases these disruptions go away with time.

2. Forgetfulness or Confusion

When you lose someone, you are forced to accept a new reality. This adjustment can be difficult, and can cause confusion or forgetfulness. You are living in a different world, one that you have no experience navigating yet. Be patient with yourself, and give yourself time to readjust. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and reach out to friends and family for additional support. Remember that this period of confusion is temporary, and will lessen with time.

3. Physical Responses

Grief is believed by many to be an emotional pain; however, grief can also cause some physical reactions. For example, a tightness in the chest and throat, low energy and weakness, dry mouth, restlessness, and sensitivity to noise and light are all common physical symptoms of grief. These effects may be frustrating at times, and cause you to feel detached or even ill, but just remember these are all temporary conditions. Go easy on yourself and listen to what your body tells you. Just as you need time to mentally and emotionally adjust, your body needs some time to heal as well.

 

 

Information gathered from What’s Really “Normal” When You’re Grieving by Robert Zucker.
Copyright Abby Press, St. Meinrad, Indiana 2004
Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

5 ways to comfort someone who is grieving

Grieving is an extremely painful and difficult process. The death of a loved one can turn the world upside down, leaving people emotionally upset, confused, and exhausted. As Catholics, we are called to comfort the grieving, which is no simple task. Comforting people can be a challenging experience, and calls for much strength and divine grace. There are some guidelines that can help you through the consoling process. Keep reading to learn about 5 ways to comfort someone who is grieving.

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1. Be perceptive

We have all experienced grief in some form. It’s easy, when comforting someone who is grieving, to compare or draw on our own experiences in an effort to empathize. However, it’s important that you remember each person is different in the way they grieve, for how long, etc. People feel grief in different ways. Coping methods that worked for you may not work for others—do not get upset or impatient if someone doesn’t grieve the same way you do. Meet them where they are and try to understand them the best you can.

2. Be genuine (avoid vague assurances and common clichés)

It’s a natural tendency to try and comfort someone who’s grieving by saying “I’m sure they are in a better place now” or “everything happens for a reason.” While these statements may be true, they aren’t very helpful to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Instead, speak the facts. Let them know that yes– grieving is a painful experience, but you will be with them every step of the way. Also, be as specific as possible when talking about someone who has passed away. Instead of saying “We will all miss Jane” or “Bob touched so many lives” talk about a specific memory you had with the person, or elaborate on how they impacted your life specifically.

3. Be present

After the loss of a loved one, life can become overwhelming. There are so many final arrangements to take care of, not to mention managing family, work, and other personal obligations. People who experience the loss of a loved one may need help and not even realize it, or might not know how to ask. Some common areas that people need additional help with include meal preparation, shopping for toiletries and other necessities, financial advice (perhaps a referral to a trusted financial advisor), yard work, transportation, etc. Instead of asking someone if they “need help”, offer to do one of these tasks specifically. It’s important to remember, however, the fine line between helping someone and being in the way. Some people may prefer to handle things on their own, or they might just want to keep their home private. In this case, dropping off a care package on their front door is a nice gesture, letting the person know you care without imposing on their grieving process. Also- never forget the power behind a quick phone call or handwritten note to let the person know they are in your thoughts and prayers.

 

4. Be a good listener

The truth is, most people are in the habit of ignoring or hiding sadness and other unhappy emotions. However, it’s important that people express their grief and sadness in order to move on in a healthy way. Therefore, do not try to “fix” someone, or distract them from their grief. Instead, listen. Listen to their favorite story about their loved one, even if they tell the same story over and over again. Encourage them to talk about their loved one, including saying the loved one’s name out loud. This can help keep the memory of the deceased alive, and lets the person grieving know that you are comfortable talking about the death. Acknowledging the deceased and the life they lived is much healthier than trying to distract the person and forcing them to move on too quickly.

 

5. Be smart

It’s important to be understanding and patient with someone who is grieving. They may do or say confusing or even hurtful things. It’s important to remember the different stages of grief, and that people handle those stages differently. However, if you notice that the individual is turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as excessive medication, self-harm, uncontrolled rage or depression, or complete denial of the death— it’s time to reach out for professional help (listed below). In less severe cases, you can also reach out to close family or your local clergy for additional help. There is no shame or failure in turning for more help, it simply means you are wise enough to understand what you are able to handle and what should be brought to someone else’s attention.

 

Emergency numbers and organizations
United Way: dial 211
Catholic Charities: 216-334-2978
Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-8255
Addiction Services: 877-896-5143

FOR ALL IMMEDIATE EMERGENCIES DIAL 911  

 

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

 

Am I Strong Enough to Handle This?

After the death of a loved one, life can seem so overwhelming.  We may want to scream, “Why is everyone acting as if nothing happened? I am experiencing the greatest pain of my life! My world has been turned upside down!” We then realize that life does go on and we must continue to function. We are tired, we can’t sleep, we have no appetite, or we are forgetful.  We may be angry, impatient and may burst into tears at the drop of a hat. We then ask ourselves, “How am I going to get through this? I don’t think I am strong enough.”

Do you remember when you were younger and you could not reach something? You would ask your mom or dad for help.  Even now when I can’t open that pickle jar, I have to ask my husband for help.  As we all know, it is easy to get lost in an unfamiliar area and eventually we have to ask for directions.  In order for many of us to get through our grief, we have to ask for help.  It is very difficult to get through this journey alone.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Through the assistance from loved ones, friends, support groups and other bereavement services, you can gain the strength necessary to work through your grief.  Our Lord is our greatest source of that strength.  The Lord is waiting with open arms to comfort you and sit with you.

              The next time you feel overwhelmed, afraid, lonely or sad, find a quiet place in your home or yard; close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Ask that the Lord come sit with you or walk with you and pour out your concerns and troubles to Him. Imagine the Lord with his arms around you, holding you or maybe evening carrying you.  He wants nothing more than to do that for you during this difficult time.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Psalm 46:1

Nancy Romaine

Bereavement Coordinator

Catholic Cemetery Association

Tending To Our Gardens

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This time of year, I marvel at the talents bestowed upon gardeners and farmers by God.  The sowing season entails so much planning, preparation and hard work.  After the crops or gardens are planted, there is an immense amount of care needed to insure a fruitful harvest; the watering, weeding, fertilizing and pruning. But after months of rigorous labor and meticulous care, the farmer and gardener reap the benefits of their hard work; Fresh fruits and vegetables that will be enjoyed by so many!

After the harvest, the land is turned and fertilized with the garden leftovers to prepare for the next growing season.  I can’t help but see similarities between our gardens and our human existence.

The Lord, our Master Gardener, meticulously planned and planted us exactly where He wanted us to be.   He feeds us spiritually with the Sacred Scriptures and the blessed Sacraments.  He weeds away anxiety, temptation, and human weakness through Divine Intervention of the Holy Spirit.  I compare hardship in our lives to the Lord pruning us to insure that we grow to our fullest potential and put our trust in Him.  That pruning sometimes hurts.  During this time, we may question our faith, our God, and our worth.  Gardeners know however, that after pruning a plant, new growth occurs.  Greener and fuller branches appear and the plant is healthier and bears more fruit.

May this summer bring you sunshine, soft rains and quiet times so that you may reflect on what a wonderful creation you are. Blessings.

Nancy Romaine

Bereavement Coordinator

Catholic Cemeteries Association

What’s In a Name?

In this beautiful month of June, everything is in full bloom, kids are finishing up with school, vacations are being planned, gardens are being planted and we look forward to celebrating Father’s Day.  There are so many different terms of endearment we use to refer to our fathers: dad, daddy, pops, papa, father or yes, even sir.  Each name evokes different emotions: endearment, respect, love, and possibly fear.  We all can remember hearing or saying, “Just wait until your father gets home!”

When my father died, it had a tremendous impact on my life.  We had lost our patriarch, the provider, the leader of our large family.  I had lost my confidant, my supporter and my sounding board. I felt less secure, more vulnerable and less care free.  Our family was not complete anymore; my mother was now a widow and living on her own.  I felt lost.  Through prayer and time, I have worked through that grief, but on Father’s Day, I still miss Papa.

We also call upon our heavenly Father in so many ways: Abba, God, Lord, Father, Christ and I AM.  These, too, may evoke different emotions. Since my father has died, I find myself approaching our Lord, as I would have my dad.  I confide in Him about my fears, my hopes, my sadness, and my regrets. Jesus is my greatest supporter and a wonderful listener.  He is also a perfect disciplinarian so gentle and so abundant in his mercy.  It is such a comfort to me to know that I have two fathers in Heaven!

Nancy Romaine

Bereavement Coordinator

Catholic Cemeteries Association

Diocese of Cleveland

Mary, Our Mother

It is May, the month of Mary, Our Blessed Mother. May Crownings, First Communions and Mother’s Day are celebrated. Flowers and trees are in full bloom and winter is a distant memory.

I have had a strong devotion to Mary since I was a little girl. Having a gentle, loving earthly mother, I imagined Mary to be similar in a spiritual way; that was of great comfort to me. As I matured and had children of my own, I looked to Mary for guidance and intercession with her Son, Jesus. As a mother, you are cognizant of your short comings and your need to improve, but you also realize the beautiful bond you have with your children.

Just recently, I experienced Mary in a new way. My son was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had to go through 9 weeks of chemo therapy. The pain I felt in my heart was indescribable, I felt helpless and afraid. As fate would have it, his chemo sessions occurred during Lent. I prayed the Rosary daily, and asked Mary for strength and guidance, she knew the pain in my heart; she understood my fear; and could relate with my feelings of helplessness. She had experienced all these emotions during the Passion of her Son, Jesus Christ. I was broken, and I sought comfort from Our Lady and she provided me with peace. The chemo sessions have ended, my son is growing stronger day by day, and is cancer-free. God is good.

During times of grief or sadness, rely on Our Mother Mary, to bring you comfort and peace.

Nancy Romaine

April Showers……Makes Me Sad

The Easter season is upon us.  It is a time for renewed hope, a time of rebirth, and a time for rejoicing.  The celebration of the Resurrection of Christ gives us great reason to shout a resounding “Alleluia!”. Jesus has conquered sin and death so that we all might have eternal life – pretty awesome.

Then why does our grief continue or even escalate? During the cold, dreary, short days of winter, it is quite understandable that we may feel sad, reclusive and less energetic…non-grieving people experience this as well.  But when the weather becomes warmer, the days longer and the trees and flowers begin to bloom, we think we should feel less sad, more sociable and have increased energy, but we may not. I notice that during this time of year, the number of bereavement calls I receive escalates. More likely than not the phone conversations start out the same, “Nancy, I know I SHOULD be feeling better now that it is springtime, but…..” There are so many “shoulds” we put on ourselves…. “I should go through my husband’s belongings, I should stop crying so much, I should move on, the list can go on forever. As we travel through our grief journey, these “shoulds” can become stumbling blocks and unnecessary obstacles.

Springtime holds many reminders of our loved ones, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, wedding anniversaries and so on.  So this season may evoke sadness and longing and that’s ok.  Allow yourself to freely feel these things, without thinking about how you “SHOULD” feel. Our God has created each of us uniquely, so each of our grief experiences will be different.  But one thing is constant, and that is the love and comfort of our Risen Lord.