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Monday 2 November 2020

5 unique sympathy gifts for grieving friends

 Tis soon the season to be giving right?

We all know in the funeral community how difficult it can be in the winter months for those who are grieving. Grieving alone, grieving with family, grieving at work, grieving during Christmas and now grieving in COVID times where even if we WANTED to we can’t reach out for a hug or call into an elderly neighbour.

I often get asked what makes for a good GIFT for someone who is grieving and, honestly, the person grieving will adamantly say the greatest gift would be their loved one’s return but sadly we can’t do that so we can do the next best thing which is to show our support in some shape or form. I have compiled a shortlist of unique sympathy gifts that might help you to help your own individual grieving communities.

1 - A Memory Tree/Plant: Planting a tree/plant can be a beautiful way to honour the memory of a cherished family member. I know some companies that are eco-conscious already provide this but dropping off a small sapling or seed kit to someone’s door to plant in their loved one’s honour is a beautiful symbol of strength and healing. Once dropped off, you could follow up with a video call explaining your reasoning and offer to help them to plant it when they have chosen the resting place of the tree.

2 - A Charity Donation: Small or large, money typically does not matter when it comes to grief and/or charitable donations. It is the thought that counts. A charity donation can be a great way to honour the memory of a person who has passed away. If the family needs help with setting up a foundation or a fund in honour of the deceased, you could offer assistance there too. Pledgeling is a great company to help with this.

3 - A handcrafted wind chime: A beautiful addition to anyone’s porch or back door are chimes and they can be crafted in many forms which could be personalized using the materials, decoration and sounds. How beautiful to wake in the morning to the sound of chimes that remind you of your favourite person while you enjoy your morning coffee or tea.

4 - Starting a neighbourhood memory book: Purchasing a beautifully bound book with empty pages begging for stories and photos and memorabilia from the neighbourhood and/or community of the deceased. It starts with you, includes a letter with instructions and once complete send it off to the next person. Once it returns to you, have it wrapped and presented to the family or loved one you had in mind. What a treasure.


5 - Trinkets, Ornaments or Frames: Depending on the deceased, a small trinket or ornament or particular frame might be perfect to show their family you are thinking of them. It is a perfect one for this time of year to remember a loved one during the Christmas season. Newbridge Silverware do beautiful small ornament frames that hold a passport-sized photo, Farewell Celtic Ashes offers personalized ornaments that house the ashes of the deceased (pet/human) or paperweights with the deceased’s photo inside. I worked with a family whose mother adored angels and fairies of all kinds so each year they receive one to decorate their Christmas tree in her memory from a family friend. 
What a true gift that friend is! 

Stay safe and take care of each other is the greatest gift you can give.

Friday 11 September 2020

The Starfish COVID19

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied,

“Well, I made a difference for that one!”

The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

ALL responders, first, last and in the between parts - that's you and me, can make a difference to the ones we pick up - mentally, physically, spiritually.

We don't wear capes but we CAN wear masks at least.

Fox News Podcast - Jennifer speaks

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Why Webcasting/Live Streaming Funerals

Millions attended Whitney Houston's funeral and listened to "I will always love you" as her body left the church. After Getty Images photographer Chris Hondros was killed covering a Libyan uprising, thousands attended his memorial service. The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin exited stage left in front of millions all around the world in a four-day funeral extravaganza. The thing each of these funerals shares? The majority of the audience at each attended them VIRTUALLY.  In Aretha's case, the church had set up a huge screen to Livestream the service at a local gas station parking lot for her local community.

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have also made us much more comfortable with sharing intimate details about ourselves online. Many deaths and funerals are reported, commented on, tweeted, recorded and posted online already.

The advantages of streaming are also a form of family memorial that can be preserved as a recording as part of a family's oral history. It's an archive for future unborn generations. For sudden deaths or pandemics, as we are currently experiencing, streaming can also foster a communal mourning experience, in digital form. This also holds true for serious immigration issues, something we are also experiencing a lot of today. Being Irish, I know of many many illegal Irish immigrants all over the world who cannot fly home so easily for weddings and funerals. Webcasting or streaming allows them to be there in spirit but also virtually

A celebrity memorial service can be one of the most-watched events in online streaming history. 2.5 billion tuned in to the 1997 funeral for Princess Diana. Nielsen Media Research said that Michael Jackson’s two-hour memorial in Los Angeles was carried live by 18 U.S. television networks and cable channels, drawing a US audience of 31.1 million.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

How to Help someone Grieving during COVID-19

As you can imagine, not having the opportunity to hold a traditional funeral or memorial service can be very difficult for anyone. I personally believe we benefit from gathering and remembering our loved ones. I believe in the funeral service as a part of the grief journey. Support where and when you can. Most important, be kind, always. There are still ways you can support them as detailed below.
  1. First and foremost – CHECK IN WITH THEM! Check in with grieving family members and friends often by phone, email, text, social media. The death of a loved one is an incredibly stressful and life-altering event. Right now, this is exacerbated one billion per cent. Grief is a very solitary and unique thing under normal circumstances but with COVID-19, people who are grieving are dealing with what I call the everything of emotions. Try having normal chats with them, tell them about your day, ask about theirs. Allow for some silence, wait for them to respond, don’t rush the conversation. Invite them to tell you funny or loving memories about their loved one and share stories of your own experiences with them – do not be afraid to mention their name. 
  2. Write a letter – a physical real-life letter and post it – maybe include photos or copies of photos. I don’t know anyone who does not like to get post or mail that is not a bill or someone asking for money.
  3. Organise an event in the future – a dinner or night out or church date – choose the date, time, location and send out to attendees and put it in the diary.
  4. Talk with them about the options available to them during the COVID-19 lockdown. Have they considered everything? Direct them to this list and see if you can help them to organize one of these memorials like setting up a website etc.
  5. Is there a memorial page or website or Facebook set up? Add your own memory, photos and loving thoughts/prayers.
  6. Is there a charity linked with the family of the deceased? Even if not, you could make a donation in their name. You could send some information to those grieving, explaining why you chose that particular charity maybe?
  7. Send dinner or lunch to their home from their favourite restaurant (if they're still open and delivering) and maybe include some wine or something and a note saying to video call you so you can have dinner together.
  8. Send a text or email every day at a certain time (set an alarm on your phone) and the text is simply a memory you have with their loved one. Check in after a few days of this and make sure that this is ok with them as this is something that could hurt or hinder someone’s grieving process. We are all different and some people love daily reminders and others absolutely hate it.

A Grievers Guide to surviving COVID-19

You’ve lost the love of your life and no one can hold you, are you serious??

The death of a loved one is an incredibly stressful and life-altering event. Right now, this is exacerbated one billion per cent. You are as alone as you ever could be. Grief is a very solitary and unique thing under normal circumstances but with COVID-19 blowing everything we ever knew to smithereens, people who are grieving are dealing with what I call the everything of emotions.

I do want to preface this by saying that right now the entire world is grieving – in this we are united – we are grieving the loss of the lives of strangers from countries millions of miles away, we are grieving the loss of jobs, the loss of social interaction, the loss of economic freedom, the loss of money, the loss of amenities, the loss of education, the loss of touch and the list goes on and on. No one grief surpasses another, we all deal with grief in our own way and if you saw my Ted talk you will see that one of my utmost values is Judgement and that we should not. Grief is unique and tragically specific to each individual. A person who loses their job and therefore what they consider their identity could grieve moreover that loss right now than if their sibling died. We are all different and unique and no situation is ever the same.

In that vein, I want to go through some completely normal and necessary responses to loss:

  • Physical Grief -  Stomach pains, constipation, dizziness, pounding heart, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, weakness, hyperventilating, nausea, sweating, shortness of breath, tightness in the throat/chest, feeling heavy/weighed down, trembling or shaking.
  • Everything Emotions - This is where you feel all the things all the time, at once, in sequence or at certain times – Elation, surprise, pity, shock, anger, anxiety, shame, frustration, confusion, denial, relief, curiosity, depression, fear, guilt, disgust, irritability, loneliness, nostalgia, numbness, joy, hatred, moodiness, helplessness, sadness, envy, or yearning
  • Boomerang Thoughts - This is where you experience a variety of thoughts that refuse to be tamed or go away and just keep bouncing back again and again. This can include - confusion, fear of death, paranoia, fear of other people, overthinking every small decision, memories, longing for past times, blaming ‘god’ or the universe, self-harming, difficulty concentrating, disbelief and denial, sexual desires, brainstorming how to prevent this ever happening again.

So what can you do to help yourself?

Firstly – PLEASE – allow yourself the time to grieve. Give yourself permission to shout, scream, cry, to feel numb or to suddenly to laugh out loud... 

This list is not all-inclusive – I am not a counsellor or a grief therapist, I am a human who has worked with hundreds of people grieving – below is my suggestions, might work for you, might not. No human is better or worse than another when it comes to grief and advise. Do what you can, when you can and you'll get through it, day by day, moment by moment. 

  1. Avoid self-judgment. There are no hard and fast rules and what works for one person will not work for another. STOP "should-ing" yourself – there is nothing you should or should not be thinking. If you are worried that your thoughts are dark at all please reach out to a professional…or me if you want to! I am always here to listen – zero judgement attached.
  2. Eat well. An easy one for me, I always turn to food – eating, cooking and baking. Eating nutritious food is always important, but right now you need it more than ever. Sure it's ok to find comfort in an ice cream tub or a bar of chocolate or bag of chips, you don’t need to be an angel!, but balance it up by getting your vitamins in too. Cooking or baking can provide therapeutic benefits if you’re so inclined. If you're now cooking for one, I can imagine that is a serious mind shift – especially for partnerships that are decades old. Try experimenting with new flavours, new dishes, eat at new times or eat with someone – virtually if that is what is currently permitted. Somehow, some small way, get out of the routine you both had.
  3. This will sound like an oxymoron coming from an Irish person but SAY NO to alcohol. It might seem like the best idea in the world initially, trust me I know, but unfortunately drinking alcohol can exacerbate feelings of sadness and depression. Alcohol will also interfere with your quality of sleep and likely to encourage you to snack and eat poorly and either over or under-eat.
  4. Change your routine. Make a list of your ‘musts’ or daily tasks and then make a list of what you would like to do or have always wanted to do. This is your Magic & Must list (thank you JudyMay) and draw out a new routine incorporating these, even if limited right now. You can build slowly towards your ideal day.
  5. Exercise. Get outside for a walk or a run, even if it’s a small walk around the block. Being outside and getting some Vitamin D from the sun is essential and will increase the endorphins flowing in your body. Try a new sport if you can/feel able. A bike ride can provide a lot of benefits – feeling that wind in your hair, sun on your face, speeding around seeing life happening can help get the good vibes going. Even getting out in the rain can be very invigorating for moods. Yoga or gentle stretching is another great indoor or outdoor activity you can do solo.
  6. Sleep!! I have always maintained that a good nights sleep after a hot shower can cure all the worlds ailments. Ok so not QUITE true and it certainly won't erase the devastation you are currently feeling but it will give you the energy to get through another day. Sleep rejuvenates the body's cells and allows the brain to rest and when your brain has been overactive all day this is essential for good health.
  7. Write, create or engage – use this time to express yourself and your thoughts on paper in a journal or in artwork. Maybe you could write a song or a piece of music. Talk to a friend you trust or use your phone to record your thoughts in an audio or audio and visual journal. Express yourself. 
  8. Go online and see who else seems to be feeling similar thoughts to you…there's a plethora of writing on the internet. Check out some grief support groups or online communities. You can also find yourself a therapist or life coach online that can help shape your thoughts and moods to contribute positively to you.

If you feel you are not eating or sleeping or drinking or eating or exercising excessively please seek a professionals help.

8 ways to still have Funerals and Memorials during COVID-19

If you’re unable to hold a funeral for your loved one, or if attendance is limited to immediate family, you do have options:
  1. IF your State or Country permits, You can have a private viewing for only immediate family and/or close friends in shifts – example 4 people in, 4 people out, different 4 people in etc etc
  2. Regardless of whether you choose burial or cremation, postpone the service. As a celebrant, Memorial Maker and event planner I have seen plenty of services where the body was either not present at all or a cremated form was present. More info on this here
  3. Ask the funeral director/home if they can perform the service but webcast/stream/record it to be viewed online at home. More info on this here
  4. Have 2-3 members of your family (again if permitted) to attend a viewing of your loved one and/or hold a service with the body in your place – again this can be recorded or streamed online.
  5. Print pictures and put in a memorial book and include notes. As of right now, the postal service is still open and active in most countries so once complete, send to each member of your family and have them do the same (each recipient should wipe down the book). In lieu of a book, you could write a letter about your memories and invite them to reply with memories of their own. This is also something you can do virtually via email and print professionally once all this is over. If you like you can even create a list of questions for each household to answer. See here.
  6. Create an online memorial or virtual funeral – this can be done easily on Facebook or creating a website. Most people create wedding websites to share memories, photos and invites – the same applies to a funeral. If the person had a Facebook profile – this can be easily altered to become an online memorial for the deceased
  7. Being born Irish, we often gather for wakes in homes or at pubs, restaurants, and bars after the funeral – this ritual can still happen online – use Zoom or Google Hangout Apps to have an online toast and memory gathering and storytelling virtual wake. If you reach out to your local religious leader or the funeral home might even be able to connect you with someone who might say some words also if this is something you would like. This can also include music – have a niece or nephew or grandchild play and sing during the ‘meeting’. Perhaps you make this a weekly or regular meeting and catch up.
  8. Ask (via email, phone, video, text etc) for everyone who would have attended the funeral to light a candle or say a prayer/quote/poem or sing/play a song or watch a movie or drink something or similar that represents your loved one at exactly the same time – maybe again associated to them – my birthday is 13th of June so maybe a 6:13am or pm. 
 As you can imagine, not having the opportunity to hold a traditional funeral or memorial service can be very difficult for anyone. I personally believe we benefit from gathering and remembering our loved ones. I believe in the funeral service as a part of the grief journey. Be kind, support where and when you can but also take this time to take care of yourself.

See here for self-care tips

COVID-19 and Funerals 2020

 Last week, a video posted by the media outlet Corriere Della Sera showed a convoy of military trucks transporting around 60 coffins from the overwhelmed morgues of Bergamo, Italy to cremation sites in other towns. New York, where I currently reside has become the ‘new’ Bergamo. Fuck.

I work in Manhattan mostly, in the funeral industry, and things are not good. Currently, the concern about funerals is not that the bodies of the people who die from COVID-19 will transmit the virus as The Center for Disease Control says there is “currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of COVID-19,”. The problem is with LIVING people. CDC advises against kissing, washing, shrouding or any form of intimate contact with dead bodies. This is where I come in with…not dead bodies but SOMEbody - aka - Johnny’s mom, Anna’s uncle, Bob’s granny, Jane’s sister. These bodies are all or at least WERE someBODY to someone.

When COVID-19 kicked off here in the US I had my first little panic attack – what if my mom or dad or any of the people I love, were dying of this horrid virus and all I could do was Facetime them? It set me off, in public. Not pretty. I have already heard stories of people whose loved ones were dying and quarantined without so much as a handhold or a human touch before they died. Hospice care workers will frequently talk of how dying patients yearn to be touched, lovingly held or hugged in some form of comfort in their last hours or days and now we can’t even begin to offer that. Then to build on that incredible pain, once granny has passed away, we cannot even turn and comfort each other physically. No hand-holding, hugging, kissing, connection making.

The most isolated and alone time in the world suddenly thrown into gargantuan depths where your defiance of the rules could lead to more loss and heartbreak so to save a soul you must crush your own. And keep it crushed because once it comes to the funeral services, everything will be online or over the phone and more business and transactional than ever before. This is not because funeral staff have no souls or are money-grabbing grim reapers as the public so often likes to portray but rather because they too are trying to save the lives of their families, and yours. 

Funeral homes see the value, as all medical professionals do, in the act of physical distance. The funeral home is as committed as ever to helping families honour their loved ones in true, safe, meaningful ways. The funeral professionals themselves are risking their own safety every day as they complete the ‘essential work’ to keep countries moving. (see attached article for COVID-19 ways to have a ‘funeral/memorial’)

It is unprecedented times and those who are still working are doing their best to keep us safe and our loved ones out of the morgues and we can show our appreciation by not being idiotic and ‘chancing it’ by travelling or meeting in groups. Stay at home and do your part and save Johnny’s mom, Anna’s uncle, Bob’s granny, Jane’s sister and the rest.

Please and thanks.

Thursday 16 January 2020

A Loved one's List

What is your favourite memory of___________________

In your mind. What was their.....

Favourite book -
Favourite musician –
Favourite author -
Favourite colour -
Favourite food -
Favourite drink -
Favourite Places Visited/Lived -
Favourite sport –
Favourite Tv Show -

What were their life.....
Hobbies -
Employment(s) -

Were they members of any Clubs -

Lastly, WHY them? What made them so special to you and those who surrounded them?