ASK THE DEATH LADY: Learning About Death And Grief
by Franne Whitney Nelson, EdT., CSDS


Q. How do you help a grieving family feel less sad when you, too, are grieving the death?
Nursing Home Social Worker, AL
A. I don't ever try to make grieving people feel less sad..
    I believe the main reason we are so uncomfortable around the bereaved and often don't know what to say or do, is because our objective is wrong.
    What we.most commonly want to do is make them feel better, and that is usually impossible to achieve. Because of love, they have earned their grief and they're entitled to it.
    As for my own feelings, I grieve right along with the family. My tears show them that their person was loved and cherished by others, and that can be very comforting to the family.

If the statue of a horse and rider shows the horse with its two front feet off the ground, it signifies that the rider died in battle; one raised foot means the rider died of wounds sustained in battle; four feet on the ground means the rider died of natural causes.

Q. Do you believe that the funeral should be a celebration of the deceased's life instead of being mostly sad?
Anne, VA
A. I believe that one perspective doesn't need to prevail to the exclusion of the other. We can share wonderful memories of the person who died at the same time that we deeply mourn the death.
    An example of how grief can walk hand-in-hand with celebration in my own life, is knowing I will be bereft when my mother dies, but at her funeral I will share a particular memory that illustrates her

rather "whacky", endearing personality. Years ago, she was driving a car that was nearing 100,000 miles. She had been keeping a close eye on the mileage because she wanted to watch the odometer turn from 99,999 to 100,000.
   When the mileage did turn to 100,000, she was driving up a hill on the dirt road leading to her house and she didn't see it happen.
    Since this was in the days when backing up a car would cause the odometer to subtract miles, she simply backed down the road until the mileage again read 99,999, then proceeded back up the hill so she would have another chance to see it hit 100,000.
   This, to me, is a perfect pairing of sadness at her death, while celebrating her life.
Q. How do you help people who feel they have wronged the person who has died?
Psychologist, NJ
A. In my experience, I have found that the element that has the strongest influence on whether an individual reaches healthy grief resolution is regret.  
   In order to deal with those regrets, there are folks who recommend sitting in front of an empty chair and talking to the chair as if your deceased loved one is sitting there. However, I believe there is a much more potent way to deal with regrets and that is writing a letter.
    I recommend writing rather than talking because writing is more complicated than talking. We learn to talk far sooner than we learn to write and we use a different, higher part of our brain to write. Therefore, I have found writing a goodbye letter is far more effective.
    A technique I use is telling bereaved people to imagine they could have their dead loved one back for five minutes and think what they would say to them. Then write that in a letter.

   It could take an hour, a week, a month or six months to write the letter, but after you have finished writing it, make several copies, keeping the original for yourself.
   It's important to have specific rituals that utilize copies of your letter. Perhaps send a copy aloft in an environmentally friendly balloon; plant a bush or tree and put a copy of the letter in the planting hole so that your thoughts, your love and your goodbye become part of the living tree; if there is time, put a copy in their casket or send it to the crematory with them; if the person had a favorite place to go in the woods, bury a copy of the letter in that place; bury a copy on top of their grave. The ideas are as varied as the number of folks who could benefit from writing such a letter, particularly if there was no goodbye.
   Important: Read your copy of the letter over and over again and eventually, you will come to believe that your beloved person knows what you have written and you will find a modicum of peace.

The Top Ten Tear Triggers Are:
1. Sadness and grief  2. Loneliness  3. Happiness  4. Fear  5. Pain  6. Anger  7. Sexual joy  8. Laughter  9. Irritating chemicals or foreign substances  10. Hormone imbalance

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