Doug McCleary: Celebrant, Officiant, Musician

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Shop Before You Drop

Posted by Doug McCleary on January 4, 2016 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

You may not realize this, but it can be very expensive to die.  While the "average" funeral (according the the National Funeral Director's Assocation) costs about $7000, in my years as a celebrant, I've occasionally seen contracts for funeral services cost upwards of $30,000.  That price of course includes many high-end amenities--service, burial, expensive casket, etc.  But still...$30,000.  I don't know about you, but for me that's not pocket change, nor is even $7000.  And price is not always an indicator of quality.


Often people don't think or worry about funeral expenses until suddenly they have to.  A loved one dies and now they're seeking a funeral home to handle their loved one's remains.  So, they call the closest home to them, or the funeral home they remember their parents or other family or friends once used, not realizing that they might have been able to save money elsewhere.  They might be taken aback when they see the actual costs, but will still take out a loan or find some other way to pay because they didn't realize they had options, and that not all Funeral Businesses are the same.


Prices, in the Portland, Oregon area (where I offer my services), can vastly differ.  For example, a simple direct cremation through one local independent group of homes will cost a mere $495.  The same direct cremation, through one of the premier funeral homes of the largest international death-care corporation will cost the consumer over $3000.  That's a 600% difference.


On the other hand, many funeral businesses--particularly independent homes--will encourage their directors to more flexibly work with you, the consumer, to create a funeral contract that fits your needs and budget, without options you may not want.  When my own mother died in 2004, we (my sister and I) worked with a locally owned funeral home, and our director gave us all the time we needed to pick out a casket (with no pressure to purchase an expensive model), honored our wishes regarding costs, and bent over backwards to serve us, with no pressure to "up-sell" or get us to buy options we did not need ( c.f. this 2001 article).


Even when it comes to my little niche of the funeral industry--as an officiant at memorial and funeral services--prices can vary significantly.  An experienced and proven independent celebrant or officiant in my work area will cost the consumer anywhere from $250 (my own requested fee) to $800 per service.  The large-corporation homes may offer their own celebrants.  You can inquire with them regarding availability, cost and experience.


For some, the idea of "shopping around" for funeral services seems improper or disrespectful.  After all, they are dealing with one of the most heart-breaking and awareness-challenging transitions in life.  Often it is thought "we should pay whatever we have to pay to do things right."  Yet, as with every other aspect of life, you are a consumer purchasing a product, and you have every right to find the best deal possible to suit your needs...and no obligation--social, religious or otherwise--to spend more than you want or can.


One more thing to take into consideration is where you prefer to spend your money.  "Shop local" has become a well regarded notion.  It is something to consider, even in this industry.  Your money can go to support a local business and the people who own and run that business, or it can go to better pack the portfolios of shareholders and CEO's.  Of course some of what's spent also helps the employees who live and work locally, but it's good to ask "what percentage?" This decision all depends on what's important to you.  And do be aware that there are all levels of funeral home ownership, from the independent "mom and pop" homes, to local franchises, to small corporations, to the largest corporation globally. All are different, and the price you will pay will vary no matter which route you choose. One cannot, with a black-and-white certainty say that every independent home will be the lowest price option, and every corporate home the highest. You must research for yourself and choose the option that best suits your needs.


So let me encourage you to shop around and learn your options, and to do so before you die, or a loved one dies.  Make phone calls.  Research websites.  Know what is available in your city.  If money is no object to you, and you wish to have "cadillac" services, then higher prices and more "frills" are easily available.  If money and saving are important to you, that too can be found.


Start by considering what you want when you die.  Do you want to be cremated? Buried?  A "green burial"?  Do you want a traditional funeral or memorial service? What kind of casket would be acceptable?  Is cost a concern?  What costs are you willing to bear, or to have your family bear?


You can do much of this pre-planning with a funeral professional, and save your family much of the potential financial hardship.  If you do, be aware that just because you or your loved ones have pre-purchased services at one funeral provider, you aren't obligated, except under certain circumstances, to use the money in that "pre-paid funeral plan" at the funeral home where it was purchased. You can transfer the benefit to a funeral business which will provide you with the level of service you desire at lower prices.


So search the web.  Make some phone calls.  Take notes.  Here are a few suggested questions you might consider asking as you do explore options:

 

  • A good place to start getting an idea of price differences is to ask "what is the cost for a simple direct cremation?"  The difference between funeral businesses when it comes to this basic service will give you a good idea of the kind of differences you can expect for other services.
  • Is the funeral business independent, part of a local franchise, or part of a national corporation?  Is that important to you?
  • Are costs clearly presented on the Funeral Home's website, or do you have to show intention to purchase to discover actual prices?  In other words, is there clear disclosure of basic costs, or do you have to sit down with someone to uncover this information?
  • Will the funeral business encourage its directors to tell you how their prices compare with other funeral homes in the area?
  • Will the business offer you individual services and items to fit your needs, or will they insist you purchase a "package" of services, with little option to personalize?
  • If you wish for your funeral director to help you find an officiant/chaplain/celebrant, does the business encourage it's directors to suggest price and style options, or insist on only one choice?  And a follow-up to this: will they help you find someone who will best fit your needs, or will you be required to "take who you get"? 


Now, with all that said, remember that "cheapest" isn't always the best option, nor is "most expensive."  The cheapest option may not give you all that you want, and the most expensive may offer you more than you need without opportunity to refuse services you don't wish to purchase.  Ultimately, it is your decision how much you feel is reasonable to pay, and what level of service you wish to receive for funeral or death-care services, and which funeral business will best provide that.  But the only way you will know is by shopping...preferably before you drop, but even after you have lost a loved one.


If you would like to discuss these issues further, you may always contact me through the "contact" link provided on my website, directly via my email dm5961@gmail.com, or call.  I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Embrace The "Ugly" So Beauty Can Take It's Place

Posted by Doug McCleary on October 28, 2013 at 11:00 PM Comments comments (0)

While walking with my dogs today, this is what I was thinking about: We Americans have become so detached from death, it's a wonder we can move on at all.  We expect life to be about being "happy" and anything that challenges our happiness (like the subject and reality of death) is not welcome conversational material (imagine how much fun I am at parties).  But without facing death squarely and for "the end" it is, we can't heal or move forward.  Let me suggest that we must embrace the ugly reality of death before beauty can grow from the pain.


First, your loved one didn't "pass away" or "move on"...they "died."  Everything about them that made them "knowable"--their physical presence with which we could interact--is gone.  While they live on in our memory, the "actual" them is gone.  They "died."  When I officiate memorials and funerals, I intentionally use the words "died" and "death."  Because, while I know they are harsh and painful, they communicate the only reality that will allow us to grieve, heal and embrace life again: our loved one "died"...is "dead"...  What that means for life after death is anyone's guess--and world religions have provided plenty of speculation and revelation on what may await us after death.  But for us who remain, our loved on is "dead."  Say that ugly word...let it punch you in the gut.  And then find yourself able to heal and move forward.


Second, Grieve!  Yes, grieve.  Take time to remember and reflect and cry and laugh.  Grief is work.  Grief is work that takes time...that doesn't happen overnight.  Grieve, and don't let anyone tell you you shouldn't.  When my father died, I was pastoring a mid-sized church in a small town in Central Washington.  I was also trying to be present for him as much as possible, which meant driving to and from Portland most weekends after Sunday service (as well as many phone calls home, and attention diverted to Portland, to make sure he was OK).  He died the week of Thanksgiving and I "went home" to plan the funeral with my sister...to be with family and hold to one another at a painful time.  When I went back to my church the week after, one of the elders approached me and said "well, now that you've got that taken care of, you can actually start focusing on the church."  He was right on one hand--I had, sadly, neglected my ministry while dealing with my father's death.  But, he was wrong that "now this can happen."  Sadly, I did what he suggested...got back into the swing of things and put my father's death "behind me."  I didn't grieve...and it took it's toll in ways I would never have expected.


"View" the body...witness a burial...scatter the ashes...  Don't flinch when the cemetery personnel show up in the dirt-covered work clothes.  There are moments, when officiating a service at graveside, that I am struck when the cemetery "guys" show up in their dirt-covered work clothes.  It's not a pretty sight.  They have, after all, been doing sad work just like what they are doing for you.  It's ugly (not "them" but what they are there to do), yet that ugliness is entirely appropriate considering why they are there (and again, cemetery guys, I don't mean that "you" are ugly...just that you represent the less-than-perfectly-groomed presentation of death that brings with it a glimpse of reality).


Don't have a "celebration of life"...have a "funeral."  Say that word.  Let it's uglines resonate around in your head for a couple of days.  Listen to how it puts us in touch with reality.  Use that word--whether it happens in a chapel or on a hillside or a backyard somewhere.  Have a funeral--acknowledge death and loss and pain...and also celebrate.  Remember with gladness and gratitude.  Have a well-written personal eulogy to celebrate all that your loved one meant to you.  But then acknowledge that he or she is gone.  Face death, embrace memory, and find strength to heal.


I was in college when my parents first called me to say they had mailed copies of their "will" documents for my sister and I to file and keep.  I was floored.  I did not want to talk about death...least of all my parent's inevitable deaths.  That's pretty standard operating procedure for someone in their early 20's.  But unfortately many of us continue with that mindset even when we are faced with the reality of death.  We don't really want to talk about it...it's too painful to say "died"...we want promises of golden streets and pearly gates...we want, somehow, to avoid seeing and accepting the reality--the person we love has died!  The person we loved is gone from us in any way that means "relationship."  The person we loved is now--to us--a memory.


Death is ugly.  Death offends our sensibilities.  Death seems like an enemy to avoid and any and all costs.  But death is reality.  Death is the word that describes what will happen to each one of us, and everyone we know and love.  For all intents and purposes (as far as we "know" outside of what we "believe" and "hope") the person we knew and loved is "gone" forever, and some day we will be also.  Take some time to think on that.  Embrace it's ugliness, as painful as it may be.  Because once we accept the ugly truth, then we can begin intentionally creating lives worth being remembered...and we can openly explore the things that enrich and renew and bring meaning to our lives.


The death of a star created the atoms that eventually formed the elements, and formed you and me (because whether you believe in evolution or that we were formed from "the dirt of the earth" it's all star-stuff).  The death of species before us allowed us to arise.  The deaths of those who've gone before us ensure the world isn't overpopulated and we can have "our time" in the sun.  We, too, will die, and make room for generations to follow.  And those who knew and loved us will hurt and grieve and find healing with time.  And the cyle will continue.

Why Funerals Demand a Body (Article)

Posted by Doug McCleary on October 21, 2013 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

...or at least a frank and honest ritual which acknowledges the finality of death, the pain of loss, and the recognition that this is the common human experience and we are not alone...

http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/10/20/why-funerals-demand-body/nepmNQdKobLgIbdnu1aTDP/story.html

A voice was heard in Ramah...

Posted by Doug McCleary on December 17, 2012 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (0)

For those familiar with the Gospels--the four books of the New Testament which present our only portrait of Jesus--one of the more troubling passages comes from the very early chapters of the Gospel of Matthew.  The story goes like this:  The "wise men" have come from the east guided by the star.  They stop at Herod's palace (Herod was the Roman governor of the province of Palestine) and ask him "where is he who has been born king of the Jews?"  Herod seeks out any information regarding the predicted birthplace of a Messiah (a Matthean invention, but useful to the story) and he send the wise men to Bethlehem, and tells them "come back and report what you find."  Herod's true motive--so Matthew tells us--is petty jealousy.  He is afraid for his own power.  The wise men don't go back to Herod (Matthew tells us they were "warned in a dream" not to), instead going directly back to their home.  And then we read this:


Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him."


2.14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, 2.15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son." 2.16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men


2.17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 2.18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more."


What makes this story troubling for modern minds is the killing of all those children under the age of 2--a slaughter is what the author paints.  We often no longer see it because we are so familiar with the story that it doesn't impact us as it should.  A ruler, killing hundreds (if not thousands) of children...all as a petty power play...a desperate attempt to retain his place in society.  We should be outraged when we read this story.  Only our familiarity keeps us from shock.  We should be outraged by Herod...and, in a way, our sensibilities should be shocked that God allows such a slaughter to occur around his "son's" birth....  Why is such a redemptive moment in history surrounded by such tragedy?


Now, here we are...just a few daya following another horrific tragedy involving the lives (and deaths) of Children.  And it's Christmas season ("Advent" if you are part of a liturgical tradition)...and we are horrified and shocked and feeling paralyzed, not knowing what to do.  Can there be any joy this Christmas in the face of such overwhelming evil?


That "voice in Ramah" is now "a voice heard in Newtown, wailing and loud lamentation--mothers weeping for their children...they could not be consoled because they were no more."  It's a voice heard in Portland, Oregon...weeping for those lost in the senseless mall shooting.  But this has impacted more than a handful of mothers in Newtown or families in Portland.  This has touched all of us.  We ask "why"...we wonder "how"...and we just shake our heads and throw up our hands in mute, humbled impotence before an act of such senseless and heartbreaking violence.  It's a rare moment in modern America when we are all together in our heartbreak.  And maybe, out of that, will come some good?


It's too early to even try seeing anything resembling a "silver lining" in the events of last Friday.  We probably should still be mute and stunned with sickened horror, and hold off until these children are buried.  But a story similar is part of the Gospel tradition--part of the tradition surrounding Advent and Christmas.  And that story is part of a much larger narrative of redemptive purpose--of God guiding history towards something better.  Will redemption of some sort come from the Newtown tragedy?  We're already arguing about gun control...and philosophical and ideological differences about where we go from here (and this is one discussion that elicits American passions more than most anything else).   In the face of such an ugly show of human evil, what more important thing can we do except wait and pray and hope and do our best--each of us--to make life a little more civil and less heartbreaking for those around us!?


I started writing with vague ideas of what to say.  Like everyone else, I'm still reeling from the reality of what's happened.  I wanted to say that this is humanity--and mass murders and the killing of thousands (even millions) is part of our difficult history and evolution, and while Newtown is awful, it is nothing new to humans, and won't be the last time we see such tragedy.  I wanted to say that I am heartbroken and sickened and impotent in the face of such evil and mourning.  And I still haven't said much.


But perhaps this Christmas--for those for whom Christmas is a holiday of faith--our  text for worship shouldn't be "behold, born unto you"...but--in light of our times and our pain--maybe "A voice was heard in Ramah"?  Because amidst the good news, we recognize this is an Advent and Christmas season for mourning.

The Holidays After

Posted by Doug McCleary on December 9, 2012 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (0)

2012 Holiday Remembrance Message

Posted by Doug McCleary on December 8, 2012 at 11:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The Sharpness of Grief, the Certainty of Relief

 

Before I begin, I'd like to say, one more time, what an honor it is to be here with you all...invited to share a little from my life and experience during this holiday time...a time when the losses we've experienced are felt a little more profoundly... I hope that something I have to say encourages you this season...

 

As someone who specializes in helping families through the first steps of loss and grieving, I discovered something this past fall: I forgot. What I forgot is--because of the passage of time—just how painful... how “sharp”...grief can be. Every week I am blessed to help families who are experiencing loss...listening to their stories, planning with them a service that will honor their loved one. I've seen families experiencing the depths of grief. And, I do get it... I empathize and—if anything—I can “feel” with you... There's not a family I've met and helped who's struggle I don't “get”...

 

But on a personal level, I'd forgotten. Of course, It's been 14 years since my father died, and 8 years since my mother's death. And looking back, I do remember the pain I felt...and how that changed the holidays... My father died the day before thanksgiving in 1998 and even though we still had our meal (we felt it was what he would have wanted), it wasn't the same...nor was Christmas that year...nor...well, until it became normal, nothing was the same after that.

 

But I'd forgotten...I'd forgotten that intense, sharp knife of beginning grief...of the immediate realization that I'd lost someone with finality. I'd forgotten, that is, until mid-October.

 

That's when I had to have Moe, our beloved (my beloved) surprise of a mutt—he was my stepson's dog, which he brought home unexpectedly one day after visiting his father—put to sleep. Moe was an unusually affectionate, loving dog who quickly stole my heart. When he came to my wife and I, he was already old—a Newfie of 11 years...and showing the signs of cancer. He was with us for just a couple of years, but that's all it took to become very attached. When the time came, and he closed his eyes and breathed his last, I remembered again that sharp knife of grief. I couldn't stop the tears and the sobs...and spent the next few days crying at unexpected moments...

 

I don't want to trivialize grief by speaking of losing a dog. We all know a pet isn't a parent...or a sibling...or a child...(though anyone who has pets will tell you they do become family). It isn't the same pain...the same loss. But grief is grief, regardless of the cause...and once again, I was put in touch with it's sharpness when it is new.

 

But, let me step back a moment. Let me say it again: “I forgot”... Until it touched me again in a close, personal way, the sharpness of grief had drawn far from me. But here's the good news—I forgot! We...humans...we forget. For all our fragility, we humans are amazingly resilient...we can endure much and though we may come through it with scars, the wounds themselves heal. Most of us, sitting here now, have experienced loss this past year...(I had the privilege of serving some of you through that time). And now, here you are, gathered with others who feel that loss with you...celebrating the life you remember... Maybe it is very fresh and you're still hurting deeply...maybe you're beginning to heal and move forward... But the truth that, as time goes by, we forget the sharp pain of loss is truly a good thing. It means we do, indeed, heal... We do move forward... We continue with life and love and all that goes with it...

 

It doesn't mean, though, that we forget the loved one(s) we've lost...that memory goes on. As I've heard said: “when we lose someone it leaves a hole in our hearts...but with time the hole gets smaller while our memories get larger”... There are those times—like holidays...special days—when we feel the hurt a little more...and we struggle through...but generally with each passing day the sharpness of grief subsides, and the warmth of memory grows. The sadness that remains...the grief that won't let us go...is like a scar—it may occasionally hurt, but in reality it is stronger than the surrounding tissue... This remaining grief actually adds to life's sweetness... making it richer...adding to it's preciousness...

 

We are all at some point in this journey from the knife of grief to the scar of healing. Depending on where you are in your journey, you may resonate with my words more or less. But I promise you this—time is truly a healer...and with time you will experience the certainty of relief...the resilience and passion for life that makes us able to “forget”--not our loved ones, but the pain of their loss... Bottom line—it does get better...and the sadness that remains is...well... maybe this quote from Seth Grahame-Smith's book "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (yesit is an unusual source for words of hope and empathy...  It is the words of a letter written by a friend of Lincoln's after his son's death) says it best:

 

You cannot now imagine that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now...and you need only believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear loved one, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.

2012 Holiday Remembrance Services

Posted by Doug McCleary on November 28, 2012 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I am honored, this year, to be invited to speak at 3 Funeral Homes' "Holiday Service of Remembrance"... The title of my presentation will be (excuse the cheesy alliteration) "The Sharpness of Grief, The Certainty of Relief"... Each service will have a unique "flavor" and is an opportunity to come and remember loved ones during the difficult holiday season. Here is the schedule of services...all are welcome:

 

December 1: Gateway Little Chapel of the Chimes, 3:00pm, Michael Allen Harrison and the Parkrose HS choir performing.

 

December 5: Ross Hollywood Chapel. 6:00 pm. The Grant HS Choir will perform.

 

December 8: Lincoln Memorial Chapel, 1:00 pm. Brandie Turner & Company to perform.

 

It would be an honor to see any of you at one of these services.

Sometimes I am Struck...

Posted by Doug McCleary on September 13, 2012 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

by how the world keeps on going...more and more without me.


I picked up my 22 year old son at his work the other day...and as I was walking into "The Ford Building" in SE Portland, I noticed all young men and women in their mid-20's to mid-30's.  They were closing up shops, or coming in and out of offices of design firms, etc.  I couldn't help but notice the lack of anyone my age in the bunch...  So, there I was looking at the next generation of small business entrepeneurs, shop-owners, advertising execs, and what-have-you and wondering when I got old and lost my "hip-ness."  I mean, I still feel young and I still think I'm pretty hip, but...I can't hold a match to these folks.


And, through the market, they were creating culture.  They are defining today's and tomorrow's trends, fasions, ads and out of all of that, culture.  Culture--which Ernest Becker (Denial of Death) is "humanity's collective effort to erect a fortress against the inevitability of death."  These young business people...scattering in and out of shops and firms, the next wave of culture...leaving a legacy that might transcend mortality.


And I felt very "behind"...  I look at my own life and realize I quit keeping up with musical trends or video trends or other trends over a decade ago.  I dress like half the other men my age...shorts and hawaiian shirts--which is a far cry from Steam Punk.  I have no hair to arrange perfectly disheveled in that "I'm too emo and my life is too precious to be wasting time fixing my hair" look of the day.  I don't get some of the new music (and I'd rather listen to my old music) and I've been known to ask kids to turn their music down (this from a musician).  And it's clear that I am no longer part of  "the difference" in culture...I'm part of the aging past.


And in many ways that's OK.  The world can move forward.  I keep up a little through my kids, but it won't be long until they're the next left-behind generation.  I like the wisdom and clarity about life I have now.  I like the simplicity of my life...the way that I don't need constant stimulation to be happy or keep from being bored.  And my past still works for me...not all of it, mind you--there's plenty of past I'd like to forget--but my past has meaning to me...it anchors my story...my life.  The world can keep moving forward...and I'll just hang back here and watch it go...with gratitude that I got to ride along for a while.

2011 Holiday Message

Posted by Doug McCleary on December 22, 2011 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I had the distinct honor of officiating at the holiday memorial services of three funeral homes in 2011.  The following is my brief message.  There's nothing "religious" or political.  Just a primarily secular meditation on stories, memory and loss:

---------------------------------------

If I were to begin a story... ”Once upon a time, there was”... how would you continue the line? ...I know you can fill in the story...most of us grew up with fairytales and stories so we know the princes and the trolls and all the good and bad guys of those stories... We, humans, love stories—whether told with words or projected for us on TV's and movie screens...and we are imaginative storytellers, it seems, by our very nature... So much so that, all it takes it those words...”once upon a time”...and almost all of us mentally start into a story...

 

One of the things that got me thinking about this was a quote I heard from a psychologist a few months ago. In a conversation about personality and character, he said (this is more a paraphrase than a quote, but it's pretty close)...”our personality and character are essentially the culmination of the story we continually tell ourselves about who we are and what we are meant to do.” So...when you stop and think “who am I?” the way our minds are built to work, we can't help but see how all the things we've experienced, good and bad...all the things we've seen and heard...all the people we've known and loved...all form part of an ongoing story that we tell, with those around us, about our lives...

 

I believe that this is part of why it is so healing for us to tell and remember the stories of our loved ones. It's why it's good to set aside times, like this, when we stop for a moment...take the time to dial up memories...snapshots...feelings...about our loved ones, and give ourselves for a time, to these intentional opportunities to think through the stories of the lives we had those we lost. When we do, we realize that their “spirit”--that driving force that made them who they were—lives on with us...even in us...

 

For those of us here, this past year has probably been about the story of losing someone we loved...and the ongoing “story” of how we have begun to find ourselves and discover how we can go on living... There have surely been difficult times... But when we put it in these terms—thinking of our lives as an ongoing story, what we realize is that the rest of the story has yet to be written. A chapter has closed...but there's more story to write and to live... And while we can't control or determine so much of what will happen and what we will see and experience, we get to write our story as it comes...we get to add each event, each moment, each day, each friend or loved one to the ongoing story...and find joy in the simple gifts of new chapters...new pages...

 

While with one of the families that I was privileged to serve this past year, doing what I do—helping them to reflect and share stories...learning of their loved one through the stories they had to tell—and as things were winding down, one of the family members commented about what a wonderful time they'd had going over old memories...telling and hearing stories...and beginning to reflect on how they would tell this new chapter... And, as the time was right and it was appropriate, I said “so, here's a question to ask as you move forward—when it comes your time, what story do you want people to tell of you...what epitaph would you like written on your headstone one day?” A couple months later, I actually got a call from that family member to tell me that they had been wrestling with that question—and with what it illuminated about their life—since I had asked it...

 

It is a useful question—what story will people tell of us? And if we don't like the story that would be told—when we look at it honestly—we can change it. We can revise the plot, the characters, the settings...and, we can even change our character...

 

We are in a season of stories—stories of faith, stories of childhood wonder, stories of family... So we reflect on the story so far...including the chapter about loss, as well as the memory of what a gift it was to be part of our loved one's life. (As we light the candles, they are like a light illuminating the chapters already told...reminding us that without them there would be no plot)... And as you go from this place, the next step is to hit the return key...position fingers for typing (if you're a typist) or pick up the paper and pen...and continue writing...

The Slowness of Grief

Posted by Doug McCleary on September 1, 2011 at 5:50 PM

Recently, while working with a family to plan their loved one's funeral service, the comment was made "well, now that we're getting through the grieving, we can have the service and then get on with our lives."  Upon hearing that, I commented "you've barely even begun grieving...once the service is over, that's when the real work of grieving will begin...and it can take a long time."


Grieving is not an overnight affair.  As we face death and loss (and, actually, as we face many changes and transitions in life) we grieve what "was."  Grief is work...on one hand, it is something that happens TO us...but on the other hand, it is a process we work at.  And it can take a long time.


Loss (and even change) is a shock to our emotional and spiritual equilibrium.  Losing a loved one initially puts us in a state of shock...and we often get through those first days by staying busy.  There is all the planning of the funeral, getting documents, starting to go through our loved one's belongings to find important items (and to begin figuring out what we do with everything).  All that busy-ness keeps us, in a way, slightly insulated from the real inner emptiness of loss, and that is probably a good thing.  Then, when things begin to slow down, we really start getting in touch with how we really feel, and how the loss is going to affect us.


Then we begin the "work" of grief.  And it is something we can work at.  We take time to remember...we go through photos and videos and clothes and other items and recognize that each thing brings with it a particular memory...or some reminiscence.  And we allow ourselves to truly feel the sense of emptiness that comes with the loss of a loved one.  We (in a sense) "pick up" that emptiness and examine it...looking for all the places in our life that will be changed now that our loved one is gone from us.  We take stock of our our failings--sometimes wrestling with regrets or unresolved anger.  We move from "idolizing" the one we've lost to recognizing their humanity and their own shortcomings.  And we begin to heal...the pain slowly subsides, acceptance of our new state in life comes...and we find we can breathe and live again.  That doesn't mean we ever forget...or that grieving has "ended" but we learn and we grow and we move forward in our lives.


Does this all happen in the span of a couple of days?  Hardly!  I can give an example from my own life.  I lost my father in 1998 (13 years ago as of this writing).  The first couple of years after his death were very hard.  I had a deep sense of loss and missed him terribly.  And yes, I said "the first couple of years"...  It took me nearly two years to get through the hardest work of grief.  Now, 13 years later, I still think of him.  I see him (and talk with him) occasionally in dreams.  I still want to pick up the phone when I run across a problem that I know he would be able to solve.  So, am I still grieving?  Probably.  Thirteen years later and it's not entirely finished.  However, I am able to live my life again.  The grief no longer hobbles me and keeps me from experiencing all that life has to give.


So...for your sake, recognize that grief takes time.  Grieving is a long process.  It won't happen in the span of a couple days...  It may happen in the span of several years.  And that's OK.  That is "healthy" grief--the kind that lets us heal and live fully.  So take your time.  Feel all that there is to feel...don't hold back.  Remember and honor and examine and reconcile.  And discover that, while life is full of moving on, it is also full of love and laughter and endless possibilities.


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