Mourning Dove Studio Blog

Planning Ahead: insights from bereavement researchers and therapists

In the Boston area, Mourning Dove Studio started with me working directly with families. I wanted to be as competent as possible while helping them, so I began taking workshops and an annual weeklong seminar. Eventually I realized that some of the work being presented would be very helpful to know when planning ahead and in the immediate time after a death.

The 5 Stages of Grief model from Elizabeth Kubler Ross is the classic work known by most people. Many presenters I’ve heard let us know that this model has come to be understood more like commandments, whereas they are merely one framework offering some understanding and guidance. It’s important to know that her model does not mean that grieving must happen in a linear fashion and to know that there are other models with useful perspectives to offer us.  The dual process model is well respected, for example.

In future posts I’ll introduce the work from bereavement researchers on instrumental/intuitive grieving and making meaning while grieving.  Right now I’ll focus on other insights that can help us with planning ahead.

I’ve learned a lot from a workshop by Shep Jeffreys.  For example:

-Almost everything is normal (Here he is referring to our thoughts and feelings while grieving. What is NOT normal in grieving is being suicidal, homicidal, or unable to function at all)
-Don’t do nothing (an intentionally grammatically incorrect phrasing to emphasize that “Inactivity can let helpless despair take over”)
-Don’t do everything yourself (“never underestimate the value of human presence”)

Although he is talking about the longer, ongoing period of grieving, to me this seems to be relevant right away for our decisions about how to proceed immediately after a death.  Taking action is important for us as individuals, and connecting with others in some manner is helpful. If common religious rituals aren’t something that is shared you can almost always find other ways to join together.

Bereavement researchers and therapists say that grief affects our thinking and affects us physically, as well as emotionally. Allowing ourselves to have a slow pace following a death is important. It seems to me that this supports the idea that one way to help ourselves grieve is to care for our own loved ones at home after they’ve died, rather than having the body removed immediately. I’ll talk about that option in a future post.

Everyone grieves differently. Keeping this in mind encourages us to respect each other’s needs, which is also important because people who have had a say in what commemoration takes place seem to do better with their grieving.

That’s one factor in the advice from Donna Sharff, the past director of The Children’s Room – a wonderful place working with grieving children, teens and families. She urges us to “include the kids – they KNOW something is going on, even if we don’t talk about it with them.” You can ask someone you trust, who the child knows, to stay attentive to them during the funeral or other commemoration so that you can be more fully present for yourself.

Respecting each other’s needs when planning commemoration can be tricky and it can even be tricky to understand what others expect. There’s a range of traditions and ways in which commemoration can happen and we may make the erroneous assumption that there is a “right way” that things happen and that everyone knows what that is. That’s not always true in this day and age. For example, it was at least 13 years ago that I found this quote from a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association “25 years ago, if I knew what church someone went to, I pretty much knew what the ritual was going to be; it just came along with that particular church. Now we have to struggle with how many options to present to people.” Even if everyone believes in the same religion, people may not share the same expectations for the process.

I strongly recommend that you walk step by step through plans being made to help avoid conflict with other survivors. In that way, when differences in assumptions and priorities come up you have time to resolve them. Another post will offer some ideas on how to get these conversations to happen.

 

First take 2 more steps towards finishing this planning guide yourself:

(1) Fill out the section in your guidebook where you record whom to notify about your death, beyond family and friends. The guidebook “Before I Go, You Should Know” has a full page list of suggestions including Social Security, organizations of which you are a member, neighbors, health care providers, pet sitters, etc.

(2) Fill out the section recording the location of important papers such as birth certificates, military records, past tax returns, etc.

Please add your comments of other things that would be helpful guidelines for us to consider.

 

Step #1 STRUCTURE IT IN
Step #2 find and use a PLANNING GUIDE
Step #3 learn from the FUNERAL CONSUMERS ALLIANCE
Step #4 draw upon INSIGHTS from bereavement research

Thursday, May 2 – ways to think about rituals

5 comments

  1. This is great and I’m glad you’re breaking it down for us in manageable amounts. Thanks!

    I would love to read something about the grief that assails one pre- death as well, for example, the little deaths over time that occur with a loved one with dementia… I find that sensation of overwhelming depression to be not uncommon…..

    1. Pamela, I’m so sorry for these ongoing step-by-step losses you are going through.

      Perhaps you might find a book helpful that’s been personally helpful to me and has a lot of respect with professionals who deal with death. It’s titled Lessons of Loss by Robert Neimeyer. It’s knowledgable, compassionate and articulate, and it includes recognition of losses of many sorts, not just after a death and not necessarily a physical death, either. It offers ways to think about grief and offers ideas and practical exercises for helping to cope. Support groups are so important and this book is supportive in the other personal moments of grieving, too.

      Would anyone else reading this have a response for Pamela?

  2. Ruth, this is great. I love hearing sensible advice on grief amplified. We tend to pathologize it as a culture, and then we end up thinking we’re doing it ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Thanks for the evergreen reminder that losing someone sucks, it’s going to feel like it sucks, and that’s OK.

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