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Cypress Basin Hospice hosts the 9th annual Camp Brave Heart presented by Everett Toyota of Mt. Pleasant. Camp Brave Heart is a day camp for children ages 6 – 12 who are dealing with grief from the death of a loved one. Camp Brave Heart is a safe place for campers to explore: Feelings, Emotions, Experiences, and Fun in a supportive community setting. Campers will be involved in arts, crafts, conversation, play, food and fellowship, and a memorial service to help them experience a sense of belonging and support in a welcoming environment. Continue Reading →

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Distracters and Maskers

Following the loss of one’s child, the worst death experience, in my opinion, would be multiple or stacked deaths.  I have assisted families who have lost as many as six members in quick succession.  A situation where multiple family members die all at once or close together is usually unexpected and very difficult to accept. Recovery from multiple or stacked deaths is complicated and generally, requires assistance for those suffering the tragedy.  In these scenarios, survivors may choose to try dealing with them as one loss rather than several.  In other cases, the pain may be so great that survivors choose to ignore them all together.  Both recovery scenarios are unhealthy and invite extreme complications. When a survivor tries to ignore a death, he/she will generally incorporate distracters or maskers into his/her life.  
Grief Brief 88
Distracters and Maskers

Some mourners try to minimize or avoid their grief with distracters and/or maskers.  Popular distracters include food, excessive exercise, anger, isolation, sex, shopping, work, movies, books, and TV.  Popular maskers include alcohol, prescription medications, over the counter or illegal drugs. Prolonged self-medicating is never an appropriate treatment.  It in no way contributes to recovery.  Under these circumstances, self-medicating has a tendency to take control of your life and infuse all sorts of collateral damage physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Continue Reading →

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Hidden Shame

Have you ever witnessed something so shameful that the moment you became aware of it, you were instantly ill?  So unbelievable that the shock wave of awareness incapacitated your ability to function and for a moment, you stood frozen, as you were, in time?  So startling that your brain had to struggle through a fog of confusion and disbelief to regain comprehension and use of your vocabulary?  I have had this experience.  I experienced it June 5, 2017, at 10:12 AM. My husband is a Retired United States Navy Veteran.  He served his country with honor for twenty years.  My children and I are very proud of his service, of his honor, of his loyalty.  His medals, ribbons, and special letters of commendation are proudly displayed on the walls in our home. As a United States Veteran, funeral home owners, and a funeral director, my husband and I are always very honored when we have the privilege of burying one of our nation’s veterans.  We extend special care to these dependent families as we understand, appreciate, and relate to the sacrifices they have endured throughout their service member’s careers.   We too have endured the extended separations, poverty, displacements, discriminations, stresses, wars, illnesses, etc. that service members and dependents suffer throughout their tours of duty, and we have always been honored to bear them proudly. Recently, I became aware of a shameful act perpetrated against certain veterans that is so disconcerting that it has caused me great distress.  I immediately notified the VA in Washington DC, and together we began working to reverse this dishonor.  Both the VA and I thought that this issue was an isolated event, however, this past weekend has proven that this is not so.   At this time, I do not know how far reaching this shameful issue impacts our nation.  I do know, however, that something must be done to rectify it, something must be done to discover how far reaching it is, and something must be done to stop it ever happening again. Continue Reading →

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Some of my fondest memories as I was growing up are of those spent with my family.  Moments in time with parents, grandparents, and great grandparents that were once common are now priceless recollections that I hold dear to my heart.  Yesterday as I sat in church, I sent out a text to my brother asking him to cook a Cajun dinner for my eldest daughter and her family who are visiting us from the northern states for a week.  Fortunately, he graciously accepted, so last night, we traveled from Texas to Louisiana for dinner at his house. As I arrived at his home, the aroma of his cooking brought precious memories back to my mind of my childhood.  Arriving at my grandmother’s house in south Louisiana was always a culinary treat.  We entered his house through the back door directly into his kitchen and immediately my children and grandchildren began hugging their aunts, uncle, and great grandparents.  The moment was so touching, I could barely hold my emotions. We enjoyed our dinner.  The gumbo was excellent.  Afterward, we walked next door to my father’s home.  We gathered in his music room, played our instruments, and sang fun songs.  When my father was a schoolboy, he played the bass clarinet.  It just so happens that my granddaughter plays the same instrument.  As my father played the bass guitar, he asked my granddaughter if she would like to play it.  She accepted the invitation and within 60 seconds was playing the foundation base of each song.  Her younger sister strummed along on the autoharp and we all learned the complicated vocal control needed for yodeling. We had a wonderful family evening.  An evening I hope they will recall with fondness when they are grandparents and have the opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren.  I see my grandchildren rarely, but that does not mean I do not love them.  It means that they live far away and that my heart yearns for them daily.  I was fortunate to grow up in the company of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and multitudes of cousins.  My grandchildren do not enjoy that privilege. When I was a child, summer vacation meant fun and play to me.   Now that I am a grandmother, it means my heartbreak will have a moment’s relief when my grandchildren pull up in my driveway and stay with me for a week.  I hope last night will be one of those memories that will bring them strength and comfort once I am gone.  I hope they will know that I loved them, that I lived all year for the moment I would be able to see them, and that I would give my last breath on earth in their defense. Continue Reading →

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This past week was a particularly sad one for our entire nation.  As the world held its breath, my husband and I awaited news of the seven missing sailors on the USS Fitzgerald broadsided by the 29,000-ton container ship ACX Crystal off Japan’s Izu Peninsula.  During the days that followed, we monitored social media awaiting any news from families who had loved one stationed aboard the USS Fitzgerald.  As communication slowly trickled out to families anxiously awaiting word, our relief for them was great.  One by one, the list of possible victims narrowed.  One by one, families without word grew more and more anxious.  My husband is a retired US Navy Sailor.  I recall a time when I was one of those family members waiting anxiously for news of my beloved sailor. The seven bereft families from the USS Fitzgerald live in an age where the news is everywhere.  They were able to see the details of this event unfold before their very eyes half a world away.  Does that make it any easier for them?  I think not.  Unfortunately, for these families, the deaths of their loved ones fall into two different categories.  These family members will suffer the effects of sudden death as well as those of high profile deaths with heavy media coverage and speculation. Greif Brief 123
Sudden death can bring feelings of regret to the survivor. Regret for things said or unsaid, actions, inactions, and lost dreams.
Counseling can serve to redirect these regrets allowing a better grief recovery experience and closure. (Mourning Light II, Tracy Renee Lee 2016)

When the crewmembers of the USS Fitzgerald left base Friday for “routine operations” they probably experienced a “routine farewell” from family members.  After all, when things are routine, they are usually mundane and do not call for any sort of special recognition.  It was not as though they were leaving for a six-month deployment; right?  If you have not ever realized it before, being in the military is not routine.  The men and women of the US Military risk their lives each and every day at work.  Their routine jobs put them in harm’s way almost every moment, even when they are on US soil.  Their jobs are not like civilian jobs.  Their jobs are to die so that civilians might live.  Yes in truth, a service member’s job is to do whatever it takes to protect your life, up to and including sacrificing his or her own.  Moreover, they are honored to do it. Continue Reading →

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Church Lady

Last night, my husband and I were privileged to have a dear family of friends visit us.  We met our friends in Las Vegas NV at the very beginning of our journey into becoming funeral professionals.  We have not seen our friends since their youngest daughter was a toddler.  She is now a bright teenager and her older sister is on her way to college.  Their brother is an encyclopedia of historical facts. As the men of our families were in the back room excitedly exploring firearms and ammunition, the women were in the sitting room discussing life.  My friend began telling me about a woman from her church whose husband passed away as a young father.  His family was very active in their church and at the time of his death, his wife was out of town with their three very young children.  His death was discovered by my friend’s brother-in-law who was so alarmed by his friend’s absence from church one Sunday, that he went to his home to check on him.  It was then that this young father’s death was discovered. One can only imagine the devastation suffered by his widow; a young mother with three young children, suddenly finding herself the sole parent and provider.  Even more devastating, the guilt of being out of town, upon his premature death, had to weigh heavily upon her soul.  Of course, she was completely unprepared for such an unexpected, catastrophic event.  Everyone who knew her had concerns for her future. Under these circumstances, the outlook for most survivors is bleak.  This widow, however, although unprepared herself, was generously blessed by someone who was prepared.  My friend’s sister-in-law was this widow’s dear friend.  Upon the death of her husband, her friend became the friend we all wish for in times of crisis.  Her friend called her every day.  She took up the slack as the young widow mourned the loss of her husband.  She became her friend’s nonjudgmental confidant as she traveled through the difficult stages of grief recovery.  She sacrificed her time and her freedom, and became whatever and whomever her friend needed for recovery until her recovery was complete. After some time, a young father who had lost his wife, moved within the boundaries of their church.   The young widow and the young widower shared a life’s experience that none of us care to experience with them.  In time, the two families became one, and each of the living parents honorably filled the vacant roles of the lost parents. Continue Reading →

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Time Is Money

The funeral profession is a service-based business. Services are divided into three categories. First, there are services provided to the decedent. These services would include removal of his or her body from the place of death in a dignified, respectful, and modest manner. They also include preparing the body for and accomplishing final disposition. Continue Reading →

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Without You

When I was a young girl, my brother had a band.  He and his buddies would practice their music down in our basement and I would try not to listen to them.  Most of the songs they sang were sad in nature, or very loud, neither of which did I appreciate.  One of the songs they would sing was “Without You.”  I remember placing my hands over my ears and thinking, “If they sing that song one more time, I’m going to scream.”  “Without You” was both sad and loud.  Although my early memories of this song are not so favorable, as an adult, I can see where there is truth in this song; especially in my capacity as a grief counselor. Earlier this year filmgoers worldwide mourned the loss of mother/daughter actresses Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.  Many were shocked that a mother and daughter would die just one day apart.  Many news reporters speculated that grief played a role in the close timing of their deaths.  As a grief counselor and funeral director, I wanted to shout at my television and pull my hair out, “You fools, grief didn’t just play a role in the closeness of their deaths; it was the leading lady.”  Now, just four months later, no one even thinks about the calamity of their deaths. How very strange that in a society where information is at our fingertips, we remain blind to certain things that kill us.  Doctors and researchers publish study after study on illnesses that kill us.  Yet, study after study, they ignore a very real killer that creeps into the hearts and minds of every person who has ever lived:  grief.   “As a funeral director, I am often asked, “What is the most important task of funeral week?”  The answer may surprise you…….………The number one task for the survivor during funeral week is survival.” (The Most Important Task of Funeral Week, Tracy Renee Lee, 2017)

Perhaps grief is just too painful a subject to address.  Perhaps doctors and researchers do not realize that grief is just as physically damaging, as it is psychologically damaging.  Perhaps the Ostrich Effect suppresses funding and renders grief an unsuitable candidate for in-depth scientific analysis.  Although we all battle illnesses, only some of us will battle cancer, some of us will battle heart disease, and some of us will battle death through a myriad of other causes.  Grief is potentially the single life-threatening battle that everyone, ever born, will battle.  It is a battle, that if left untreated, will kill you. The Ostrich Effect is the tendency to ignore a dangerous or risky situation, a way to avoid troubling information.  It is not the way forward.  No one wants to face his or her mortality, nor that of their loved ones.  I understand that fear.  I see it every day in the faces of my clients.  Unfortunately, fear nor ignorance keep grief at bay.  It comes whether we want it or not, and it will, one day, come for you. Last week, I directed a funeral for a family who had lost a young man through murder.  This week, I directed the funeral of his last living immediate family member, his sister.  Both siblings had suffered tremendously during their short lives.  As children, they were orphaned through extremely tragic circumstances.  Fortunately, their extended family had a strong leader, and these two children were raised together, rather than separately.  Now that they became young adults, they are dead – one through murder, the other through sorrow. Continue Reading →

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Indifferent Survivor

When I was in college, my professor taught that the opposite of love was indifference.  Throughout my life, I have witnessed the truth of his teachings.  This past week, however, forty years later, has disproved his teachings and erased my belief that he taught me the truth. This weekend I worked for a family full of love for each other.  Many of its members had not seen the others for years as they live far distances apart.  In fact, the time of separation between family members has been so long, that some did not recognize those with whom they had grown up playing.  I watched this family closely, for they were in my building under the very tragic circumstances of murder.  I expected angry outbursts, inconsolable grief, and temper flares all week, but they never surfaced. The core group of this family is matriarchal, educated and cultured.  They arrived at the funeral home early Monday morning to arrange funeral details.  Their young decedent, who had been orphaned early in life, had been reared under the tutelage of his widowed grandmother. The tragedy and senselessness of murder bring uncontrollable raw responses to the lives of co-victims.   They will experience both physical and emotional responses.  Physically, the body will attempt to protect itself from the trauma.  This response is commonly known as the “Fight or Flight Response.”  One may experience physical shock, disorientation, hyper-alertness (brought on by adrenaline rush,) heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, sweating, hyperventilation, difficulty breathing, tightness of chest, uncontrollable sobbing, inability to cry, a void of emotion, panic, and/or numbness.  Emotionally, co-victims may respond with anger, rage, fear, terror, confusion, guilt, self-blame, shame, sorrow, frustration, humiliation, or overwhelming grief.  Any or all of these responses, both physical and emotional, have the ability to overpower the brain.  This creates a dangerous situation for co-victims.  It thrusts them into a grave potentiality of not surviving the murder of their loved one. Murder is surrounded by public curiosity and rule of law.  Co-victims must endure news reports, police interviews, public speculation, ongoing investigations, and trials.  They may be caught in the lair of constantly reliving the trauma of their loss as justice tries to right the wrong they have been dealt.   They may begin suffering nightmares about the murder, anger toward their beloved decedent for being murdered, rage toward the murderer, rage toward law enforcement for an inability to establish justice, depression, helplessness, loneliness, isolation, or disbelief or hatred toward God.  These added emotions compound the functional inability of the brain and can create long-term impact on the co-victims character.  They interfere with grief work and create complications too great for unassisted recovery.  The impact may affect several generations. Continue Reading →

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Overcoming Failure

What happens when you realize you have failed at the most important job you have in life?  That is a sincere question from the depth of my soul.  I am searching for the answer.  It is a realization that stings at my heart, and I do not know what to do about it. As the New Year begins, I find that I have a failure in my personal life that I must overcome.  A failure of which, just last week, I was unaware.  This week begins a new and very uncomfortable awareness of personal weakness for me.  I must now devise a plan to overcome this weakness within myself that cannot be ignored and cannot continue for one more moment. When I was a young girl, my parents took me to see the Winslow Meteor Crater.  I was so amazed as I observed the huge scar left on the earth’s surface by a rock from outer space.  Last week, when I became aware of my personal failure, the wound to my soul brought back my childhood memory of Winslow AZ.  The scar on the earth’s surface now seems so insignificant, even minute in comparison. This scar is so personal that I do not know how to reach out for help without betraying a confidence.  I do not know where to turn for guidance.  I am utterly devastated.  For me, the easiest thing to do is to turn to my work.    Losing myself in my work allows me to ignore my life, my pains, and my own issues.  The problem is, though, last week, I decided I was going to work less this year.  I evaluated my life and noticed that I spend too many hours disconnected from my personal self and my personal obligations.  Maybe I should have made that decision a few years ago, but I did not. Now I am faced with the consequences of personal neglect.  I must own up to issues that exist because I had my head in the sand, ignoring my personal commitments and responsibilities.  I must repair my biggest failure in life, and I pray that these wounds will heal and not leave scars that will eclipse the Winslow AZ Meteor site. Continue Reading →

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