Celebrating death

No service by request 

Life is a terminal condition. None of us get out of this world alive.

Death, dying, and grief aren’t the most popular topics in our society.

Each of us entered this world through the doorway called birth, and each of us will depart via the doorway called death.

So much surrounding death is misunderstood, and remains a mystery. We try to sanitize it, to make it more comfortable, wanting to move quickly onto more pleasant topics.

The fact is, while death is natural, it is hard because it represents loss. It’s an unavoidable fact.

Grief expert Alan Wolfelt captured it so beautifully when he wrote, “grief is love’s twin.”We grieve because we have loved.

As a nurse, minister, and hospice volunteer, I’ve become comfortable in conversations about death, dying, and grief.  I’ve learned so much, as I choose to move closer when the topic arises.

While I don’t want my family to get stuck in grief, I sure hope I’ve made enough of a difference that they’ll miss me and be sad by my departure. They’ll need support in this. I hope they hold a big party, play all of my favourite tunes, and tell Mom stories.

I’ve journeyed with many in the messy process of grief, and witness additional suffering of the bereaved because of an increasingly common trend of ‘no service by request.”

It’s becoming increasingly common to hear there’s no service at the request of the deceased.

While I want to remain sensitive on the subject, I think there’s more to consider.

People have many reasons for deciding they don’t want a service held to commemorate their passing, yet it’s those left behind who often bear the burden of no service.

I clearly remember the conversation between my husband, Tom, and his mother, when she told him she didn’t want a service following her passing. She was annoyed at the cost, and said most of her friends were already gone, so she preferred no service be held. Always a quiet woman, she didn’t want a fuss made.

Tom took a big breath, as he looked his Mom square in the eye and said, “At that point, Mom, it’s not about you, it’s about us.”

He explained, while she would no longer be here, those who loved her would remain behind. Her passing would make a big difference in our lives. We would need something, a reason to pause, to gather, and remember.

Mom understood, and so a compromise was reached. Her service would be small, only held at the graveside, and attendance would be limited. We would gather as a family and close friends, and hold a barbecue on her dime. And that’s what we did.

When this great woman passed, we did what we’d always done as a family:

  • we gathered
  • we ate
  • we talked about Mom
  • we cried
  • we laughed.

We paused and remembered.

What was most important for us, as we mourned the passing of a woman we loved so much, was to be together, to remember, to support one another, and to be supported.

I’ve worked with many people who feel stuck in their ability to grieve because there’s been no service; no reason to pause, to gather, to grieve, and to celebrate a life that mattered to them.

Some people end up having to do something, even years later, to support themselves in their process with grief.

Whatever’s held doesn’t have to be the traditional funeral service; it can be a simple family gathering, such as we did with Tom’s Mom. I’ve held services on sundecks, in backyards, in wineries, and in living rooms.

One family held a weekend camping trip in honour of their loved one. I love this idea. Some celebrate on a significant day, months later, in a manner fitting the personality of the person who passed. There’re so many ways it can be done.

If your loved one requests no service, be willing to have the conversation. Be willing to negotiate and find a solution honouring everyone needs, such as Tom did with his Mom.

I’m so glad he did.

I encourage you, whatever it is you decide upon, to do something. Find a way to pause, to gather, and to remember.

Being willing to consider this often taboo topic, to have the conversations, and to support ourselves when dealing with loss is important. It’s never too late to hold a service of remembrance.


The sweetest revenge

Forgiveness, Part II 

“Tell your brother you’re sorry.” Arghhhh!

I wasn’t sorry! He hit me first, but I got caught, and I had to be the one to say I was sorry.

I wasn’t really sorry about hitting my brother back, I was just sorry I got caught. I was sorry I wasn’t as skilled at being as sneaky as he was.

My anger grew as I was made to apologize, and the smirk on his face grew even wider. I wanted to seek revenge again, but even as a child, I could see where revenge had gotten me.

For many years, I thought forgiveness simply meant saying I was sorry, and didn’t understand there’s more to it.

Forgiveness is an active process that benefits me. I’m grateful about what I’ve learned, as it’s offered me the keys to my own freedom.

Many universities and health care institutions have conducted forgiveness research, and reveal myriad health benefits to forgiveness, as well as the personal cost of with-holding it.

When we hold a grudge, or stay angry, we are the ones who bear negative physical, mental, and emotional harm, not the perpetrator. 

We each have personal beliefs about what forgiveness is, arising from our families, religion, and the culture we live in. Not all of our beliefs about forgiveness are true and they can only serve to keep us stuck experiencing the pain of the past.

Becoming aware of our beliefs about forgiveness and getting clear about what it really is and is not, is important.

As I shared in last week’s column  forgiveness is not saying what happened is OK or that you ever have to reconcile with another who has harmed you.

Forgiveness is a process of freeing ourselves through letting go of our own hurt, resentment, and anger. It’s reducing our own suffering.

It takes a strong person to forgive. But when we do, we reclaim our energy from the past and empower ourselves. We take our power back.

There are many models for forgiveness arising from the research; there’s no one, single way.

First, it’s important we acknowledge our hurt feelings.

Often times, we’re led to deny or sugar-coat our feelings, but this is about being real with ourselves, and acknowledging our own feelings. It’s important to remember to breathe, and make space for our feelings; Simply experience our feeling, not to feed them.

We then consciously make a decision to forgive. We do this for ourselves, not for the other We’re not condoning behaviour, or seeking reconciliation here. We are deciding to free ourselves.

In this decision, we become empowered.

When we’ve been hurt, something is lost, and we need to grieve.

The challenge with grief, is many people won’t allow themselves to grieve, preferring to deny the hurt, or cover-up hurt feelings with anger instead. Anger often covers up other emotions.

Grief may feel vulnerable, and anger may feel like power.

Anger keeps us stuck in the stress response, and this takes a toll on our health.

As we grieve, it’s also important to not stay stuck in the grief for too long or to feed the hurt feelings.

It’s a balance.

I find balance when I consider how I’d support my own best friend who’s experienced pain. I wouldn’t deny it was there. I’d be compassionate.

I also wouldn’t egg them on, feeding the story to make them feel worse. I wouldn’t remind them of every past injustice or pain when they’re already hurting.

As we feel our hurt and grief, we hold ourselves in compassion and breathe.

For those big hurts, those things I’ve been most challenged to forgive, believe it or not, I find empathy to be the most powerful antidote.

As I wrote last week, hurt people hurt people. I pause to become curious about what might have happened in the life of the ‘villain’ to have caused them to act the way they did.

This curiosity creates an opening for me to develop empathy toward them. Some people perpetuate their own pain by inflicting it on others. They may be unskilled.

Considering this perspective causes me to shift from feeling the victim of another’s behaviour, to one of personal empowerment.

Often, for me, this dance of feeling my emotions, deciding to forgive, grieving, and shifting perspective to empathy is done in layers for the bigger hurts.

I used to think it was once and done. I wish this were so. If hurt feelings arise again, we haven’t failed. There’s just another layer of healing being made available.

What I’ve learned is, each time I make the choice to forgive, I feel lighter and happier. I sleep better, and it is much more pleasant inside my head and body.

With a big hurt, it may be helpful to seek the support of a caring, wise friend, or a therapist, to help guide us through the process.

Forgiveness is a very big topic but one worth exploring, and it’s a good investment of our time. The benefits of growing our personal capacity for forgiveness are many.

As we practice forgiveness, starting with the smaller hurts first, we grow our capacity to free ourselves from hurt. We are empowered.

While it may seem unfair that the injured person must take time to practice forgiveness to heal, those who choose forgiveness benefit the most.

The freedom forgiveness offers and a life well lived may be the best revenge.

Forgiveness is freeing

“Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

I’m tired of paying the price for other people’s mistakes and bad behaviour.

We’ve all been hurt in big and small ways, intentionally or unintentionally. There’s no denying, horrible things happen.

This article in no way denies the scarring and damage life’s atrocities, big and small, have created for people. It’s about ending our own suffering.

I believe hurt people, hurt people. This doesn’t excuse them, but we don’t have to perpetuate the suffering in our own lives.

The bigger question is, how can we stop our own suffering and paying the price for the actions, or inactions, of another?

How do we free ourselves?

Over the next couple of weeks, I will explore forgiveness, and offer strategies to reduce our own suffering.

The place to begin is to get clear about what forgiveness is, and what it isn’t.

Forgiveness is not saying what happened is OK.

Forgiveness is not saying we must ever seek out or reconcile with the person who has harmed us. Others don’t even need to know about it.

It’s an internal process.

Forgiveness isn’t forgive and forget, it’s letting go of our own pain. Forgiveness liberates us from the shadow of another’s mistake and we take our power back.

If we had to wait until someone apologized or felt sorry for us to forgive, we might be waiting a long time. Sometimes, they aren’t sorry, they don’t even know the pain they’ve caused, or they’re dead. Waiting for another to feel sorry would only keep us trapped and locked into our own pain.

Forgiveness is a process. it’s not an event, and it can take time. It’s often done in layers.

We don’t over-ride or deny our own hurt and pretend we’re all happy-happy-joy-joy.

Bottling hurt feelings up doesn’t work, and puts added stress on our minds and bodies. This can make us sick.

Bottled up emotions often spill over into our lives in other ways. We can shut ourselves off from support, or avoid any situation or person who even smells like the one that hurt us. In this, we lose out on life.

Be nice to the right person. Yourself.

Many of us use a critical voice with ourselves. But when we’re hurt, it’s important to be kind with ourselves. Imagining we are our own best-friend is helpful. What would we tell someone we really loved who’s hurting? How would we be with them?

It’s important to acknowledge and feel emotions, and to pause to ask ourselves what we need. We may need to share and feel heard and supported. Writing about it, sharing with a caring friend or counselor may be helpful.

It is helpful to name the feelings that arise.

Naming the emotions helps to turn the volume down on the emotional centre of the brain and invite the rational part of the brain into action, according to a study conducted at UCLA.

We can gain perspective and realize we’re not alone. Many people are experiencing similar feelings.

When working with forgiveness, it’s best to start with smaller hurts, not the big things.

As best we can, stop having conversations with the offender within our own mind.

When we’ve been hurt, there’s often a tendency to go over and over what was said or done in our own minds, and rehearse what we’d love to say.

This sometimes happen to me in the wee-small-hours, just when I was supposed to be sleeping. Each time I do this to myself, I can feel a shot of stress chemicals in my body, I’m wide awake, and I suffer.

The adage of ‘holding a grudge is like letting someone live rent-free in our head’ applies here.

I often consider how much air-time I give to people who’ve hurt me, and I suffer. They’ve likely not given it a second thought. How much power do I want to give others in my life?

I used to be the great pretender, and try to fake it through. Now, I take the time I need with myself until I can gain some clarity about what happened. Deep, slow, belly-breaths are helpful.

I’ve found power and liberation in pausing, taking a few deep breaths, and turning toward my hurt feelings with self-compassion.  I name what I’m feeling, and don’t pretend nothing happened. Sometimes, I just silently whisper ‘ouch’ to myself.

Deepening our understanding about what forgiveness is and isn’t is just a starting point. Getting clear forgiveness is about ending my own suffering, and not about the other, was helpful for me.

In upcoming weeks, I will explore more concepts related to forgiveness. Stay tuned.


Sing your song loud, proud

Don’t let your song die within you, whatever that may be.

Is there anything you’d love to do, something you’d love to try, but haven’t done it yet? What stops you?

For many, the fear of not being perfect, whatever that is, stops them.

Taking the risk of making a mistake, or of failing, keeps people bound from trying the things they’d love to try. Self-consciousness often gets in the way of people sharing the gift of themselves, and the old inner-critic stops people before they begin.

Life is short, and it’s to be lived.

Yet, as a nurse, I’ve heard so many people quietly whisper, “I always wanted to try that, but it’s too late now!”

This past Sunday, I attended a year-end music recital for students of Kelowna Voice Lab  under the direction of Kim Foreman-Rhindress, and her husband Jim Rhindress, who teaches guitar.

They both teach with love.

I’ve become a regular at these recitals because each time I attend, I am moved and inspired by the students’ courage, tenacity, and growth. My smile muscles ache by the end of the evening.

The range of talent and ability of the students is wide, from those who are singing in public for the very first time, to some more accustomed to the stage. There are even those amazing students who are learning to play guitar to accompany their own voice; a feat unto itself.

At the Christmas recital, one young lad even wrote a song he played and sang about the meaning of Christmas. His wisdom about what’s important in life, and his willingness to share it in song, moved me to tears.

It was beautiful, and he inspired me.

Each recital, I marvel at the courage it takes to get up on the stage to sing and play in front of an audience. Even though they’re nervous, the students let their lights shine, and everyone in the room benefits.

I’ve been blessed to watch the evolution of students, and I marvel at witnessing their growth. With each recital, I see the confidence of the students grow.

What’s unique in this setting is the love, support, and admiration that fills the room.

Even though most are not polished professionals, there’s a recognition of their courage and willingness to sing in front of a room full of people. They share their evolving talents, and we all benefit.

In this setting, missed notes are not a reason to grimace. Smiles of encouragement are found everywhere. Starting off on the wrong note is OK, as starting again is safe, not judged.

Regular recital attendees support and celebrate, not only their loved one’s accomplishments, but those of each student who gets on the stage.

The room is filled with cheers and heart-felt applause for everyone. High-fives are common as people leave the stage. Words of encouragement to the performers are quick from the lips of fellow students and audience members.

As I bask in the memory of this wonderful evening, I wonder what life might be, what amazing gifts we’d see emerge from people, if the whole world simply celebrated others who had the courage to try.

Critical voices would fall away, and maybe the old inner critic would be silenced. People would start to dance out on the skinny branches, as they stretched their own ability, found new passions, and shared the gifts they’ve come here to bring.

I wonder how many gifts lie buried behind this perceived shield of safety.

What would you love to do?

What would you love to learn, or try?

When are you going to do it?

More New Thought articles

About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories