Category Archives: Grief Care

The Mind Needs Exercise, Too (Part 2 of 2)

This week we’ll stay on the subject of maintaining personal health by focusing on the mind.  Along with physical exercise, mental exercise is critical to keeping our overall health excellent so that we can live a longer and higher quality life.  This doesn’t mean that funeral planning and all of its factors, from probate and estate planning, to determining funeral costs, evaluating the value of burial insurance or funeral insurance, and even learning how to deal with grief and depression are not important. Rather, it means that good health will make us stronger and much more able to deal effectively with these and other tasks and challenges that life brings our way.  Each of them are important when the time comes, and whatever we can do physically and mentally to be better fit for them will be of great benefit.

Doing what we can to maintain mental fitness is every bit as important as the physical side.  One without the other leads to a partial existence, yet when combined together our capacity for accomplishment increases many fold.  Maintaining full functionality and alertness of mind is a never ending workout.  Mental exercise is a major force for a positive attitude and the provision of a long and meaningful life. It also makes a person better able to cope with problems and thereby avoid issues such as serious bouts with grief and depression in those times when your life might be in turmoil.  Additionally, it helps to ward off the incursion of negative thoughts.

My dear departed mother had a little saying that she used on me constantly when I was a boy.  It was simply this, “An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop”.  Some of you who are older like me may have heard it and it pretty well expressed her expectations that my daily life should be busy.

Mom was a very old fashioned girl and in those days children were expected to be busy.  School, chores, play and homework were all part of the daily routine, something which sadly is missing today with many young people.  The components of the day kept me well rounded and fit and by the end of each day I was tired and ready for bed.  Television was not part of the weekly schedule unless it was a special treat and it was at an early hour.

Mom spent most of her life being very active and this included her constant efforts to maintain her mental alertness even as she aged.  She maintained hand and eye coordination knitting quilts and making doll clothes for the local medical auxiliary charity drives.  Her work was always a hit and sold out quickly.  It’s too bad that we children didn’t appreciate her delicate handiwork as they would be collector’s items today.

She also loved crossword puzzles and I can remember her earnestly checking with her handy dictionary as she worked on them.  Her acuity was also seen when we had play a family game of Scrabble and her talent was formidable.  She just giggled as she won hands down.

Only when her physical pain from debilitating arthritis finally limited her physical mobility in her last years of life did her mental skills start to diminish.  By that time she wasn’t reading and working with words as much and watched more television.  The passivity of television in place of the active interface with the visual word took its toll and was markedly noted with the onset of dementia.   She died about two years later at the age of ninety-one.

I mention my mother’s situation to show just how important keeping the mind active is to good mental health and vitality.  Reading, writing, playing mind games and other such exercises are truly good for maintaining sound capacity.  And these things are also enjoyable and allow us to continue a useful life even when we become frail physically.  I even knew of an elderly blind man who despite his handicap continued writing actively in braille. He even kept copious notes from radio programs as a means of practice.

We can’t stop the process of aging entirely, but we certainly can impede it and thereby allow for a longer span of active life than we might experience otherwise.  So the next time your find yourself in a situation facing grief and depression, get busy.  Write that letter that you’ve been putting off, read a good book or write that book that you’ve always wanted to do.  It will enhance you and make the world look so much better.  And it will certainly fill that void where the idle mind opens you to negative factors.  Stay positive, use your mind productively and you will be richly rewarded by your results.

Until next time, have a wonderful week, God bless you and God bless America.

James Dick

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Funeral Meals: A Grieving Family Needs Lots of Support

We have spent a lot of time weekly talking about funeral planning and its many associated facets including estate planning, funeral costs and funeral expenses. One area we haven’t discussed is the funeral meal, one of the most memorable events following a funeral and one which requires the efforts of many to insure that it is handled well.

While I was pondering this subject I came across an old column from the New York Times internet edition which was right on the mark. While I am not a big fan of the Times, I do enjoy many of the specialized articles like this one which was found in the August 10, 2005 issue of the dining and wine section. Written by Abe Opincor, it reminded me of some of the old stories my mother passed along about funerals she had attended and the preparation involved.

Opincor talks about a lady named Vertamae Grosvenor, a cultural correspondent for National Public Radio, who grew up in South Carolina. Ms. Grosvenor wondered why people tended to eat so much at funeral meals and she provided her theory, and it was a simple one: “We ate so much because that way we knew we were alive.” Opincor further goes on to discuss variations in funeral meals and traditions by sections of the country and social grouping.

Being a Southerner by birth, I found that some of his comments about my region closely paralleled some of those things told to me by my mother. I also had some personal experiences which support his points.

Mom used to say that women in the South, particularly in small towns and rural areas, always had a casserole in the freezer just in case it was needed for a funeral. This paralleled directly with the Opincor piece which also brought back memories of fried chicken and rich desserts. We just weren’t as conscious of health issues or maybe it’s just that we decided comfort foods were needed at a time of great stress. I guess at times like that we really didn’t worry about what the doctor advised. This is probably true in many cases today as well.

But there was something even more dramatic in the way of cultural differences that I had to affirm as having witnessed myself. If you have never attended an African-American funeral in the South you have missed the feast of a lifetime. The church social hall, which is where family and friends gather after the service, features a smorgasbord of foods salty and sweet, hot and cold, with many different aromas and textures but all delicious.

My first personal experience with such a funeral was during my final active duty Army assignment and I was assigned to a post near my hometown in Tidewater Virginia. It was then that I learned the part that food really played in the celebration of a Christian death by the black community. One of my top civilian employees lost her father and she asked me to come to his funeral; she told me that I would never forget it. And what a celebration it was. Not only was the service joyous and uplifting with forward looking eulogies and wonderful spiritual music, the array of food served was something I never before had seen.

Being a weight watcher, I tried to graciously limit my intake and give my condolences when a giant of a man with a warm smile grabbed my shoulder and told me I couldn’t go home hungry and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Snapping his fingers, two young ladies went to the serving line and prepared a plate for me that I couldn’t finish in a week. It had fried chicken, baked ham, sliced pork, sweet potatoes, green beans, okra and so much more.

Looking at the table I could see that they had brought me what they thought I would like. They had left many wonderful concoctions that obviously were enjoyed by their community, traditional soul food, but they were uncertain if I would like it. Before the day was over I had sampled some and while it requires the development of a taste for it, it was surprisingly good.

Well, things were delicious and I ate until I thought my waistband would snap and I just had to stop. The Elder came by and smiled and told me that he knew I could do it. Then the same two young women came over with a tray full of rich desserts but I said I just couldn’t possibly eat another bite. They relented but did send me home with two desserts, a wonderful bread pudding and a huge homemade slice of pecan pie.

Never before had I been fed anywhere like that, let alone at a funeral. But as I said my goodbyes they all told me that maybe I should go back to my church and tell them how a real funeral meal is served. And I have never forgotten it.

The next morning I put in an extra fifteen minutes on my morning run and added some extra repetitions to my weight workout. If I ate like that again I think I would be attending my own funeral but, wow, was it good.

And I again remembered what my mother had told me as a boy about having a frozen casserole at the ready at all times. Those wonderful folks at that traditional African-American church certainly didn’t have any frozen casseroles on the table, that’s for sure. Everything was done from scratch after learning of the death of someone dear to them, and it was truly a labor of love. It was also a celebration of the end of life on this earth. They were celebrating the transition of this good man to his seat in Heaven with the Father and his Savior.

I tell you this story because I think it points out two very important things to be taken from it. First, if you are a Christian and the decedent is also a person of faith, the final tribute and that special meal should truly be a joyous occasion and, secondly, the family can’t do this alone. They need friends and family to step up to the plate so that they can properly attend to their own sorrow and closure. And nothing shows your love for them like helping to take care of the funeral meal. Remember this when you are called to help a family facing this situation.

God bless you all and have a wonderful week. And God bless America.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
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Depression and Grief: The Aftermath

WRITER’S NOTE: When a family suffers the loss of a loved one, the worst of grief and depression is temporarily averted because family and friends rush to their side and important decisions must be made quickly. The days leading up to the memorial service and internment are tied up with family and friends and funeral planning, encompassing such items as determining funeral costs, funeral expenses and the availability of any funeral insurance or burial insurance which might cover some of them. Only after services are completed and the home is empty of friends and relatives does the family face its new normal. This often brings cold, hard reality and often intensive grief and depression. It is at these times that the family will need support from family and friends more so than ever.
Suzy McIntire and her family were alone and she was now face to face with her sorrow and that of her children. After three days of non-stop visitors, meeting with lawyers, accountants, the funeral director, her minister and many well intended extended family and friends, her husband of twenty-five years, Jake, was finally put to rest at a heavily attended ceremony. Now on a Thursday night, only five days after his death, she and her three children were trying to put the pieces of their changed life together with the realization that Jake would not be back.

Suzy had been brave or at least she thought so. She did not shed a tear and maintained her composure throughout the grueling days and all that had to be done. Suzy was raised in a strict family where emotions were frowned on and she thought breaking down in tears in front of her children would not be a good example.

Suzy’s children, Jake, Jr., Melissa and Amanda, followed her lead. They were somber and stone faced throughout, but they looked miserable as if they just didn’t care what happened next. Sitting down with them in the den, the room that their father loved so much, she suddenly broke down into big sobs. The three children looked at her in amazement but then little Jake rushed up and put his arms around her.

“Mom, it’s okay, you can cry”, he whispered. I talked to Pastor John last night and he said tears are good when someone dies. It helps you stop being so sad.”

Suzy showed a tiny smile and responded, “But Jakie, I’ve always taught you children that tears are a sign of weakness and we can’t show weakness at a time like this.”

By now, the two girls had come close to their mom and little brother and were paying attention closely. Little Jake pondered things for a moment and then looked closely into his mother’s eyes, showing much maturity for a ten year old.

“Cry, Mom, I want to cry, too,” was all that he said and he began to cry openly.

When he hugged his mom tight with tears streaming, the two girls also entered the family huddle and joined in a group hug as well. All four members of the family, mother, two daughters and young son all broke into sobbing tears. The release of the pent up feelings and sorrow was free flowing, relieving some of the grief and depression which was building and, without relief, could have long term consequences.

The next day, the sun dawned a little brighter and more cheerful, the kids were off to school and Suzy called her supervisor saying she would be back at work on Monday. A little later, Pastor John Simpson, their family minister, came by to check on Suzy. She told him what had happened the evening before and how little Jake had passed on his advice.

Pastor John nodded and said, “I thought he would tell you. I knew it needed to come from him and not me, but it was important for you to open up and let your feelings out.” He added, “Things will get better for you now that you are facing the issue. And don’t forget, Jesus is here to help in any way he can as am I.”

At the end of the visit she thanked him profusely and decided it was time to get busy. She headed out to the store to buy some special fixings for the family. She would make one of their favorite suppers and get the family back on track to a reasonable life. They were going to live life actively and enjoy what God had given them. And she knew that her loving Jake was watching approvingly from his Glory above.

The story just told is a situation that is faced by many of us and often no one outside of the immediate family has any understanding of the degree of sadness faced. Why did I decide to use it? Well, it’s important for us to realize that no matter how strong and tough people appear, in times of mental anguish, of which death is one of the most difficult to deal with, appearances of those impacted can be most deceiving. We must remember this when dealing with family and friends suffering from loss. Follow up with them, spend time with them, afford them the opportunity to release their anguish and just be there for them. It is important, they will always remember the kindness and concern provided and it’s what God expects from us. Kindness, caring and compassion go a long way to alleviate human emptiness.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
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Grief and Depression: Half Empty or Half Full?

The funeral business is full of stories about grieving families suffering through the loss of a loved one. Their grief and depression can be totally a result of the immediacy of loss or, in other cases, the grievant might be pre-disposed to grief and depression which is exacerbated by death of a loved one. In the latter case it is even more difficult to focus on the many funeral planning issues they suddenly face, such as funeral expenses, funeral costs and funeral needs. Sometimes these added stresses can last long after a reasonable period of mourning is over. In such cases, it is of paramount importance to find a permanent answer to the problem or their life can be effectively put on hold.

I thought about this while I was planning this week’s column and I remembered a dear friend of mine who had a personality that was always in “down” mode, never upbeat and always looking for the worst likely outcome. He was a good man and a loyal friend, but he always fought these feelings and when faced with the sudden death of his wife of over twenty years he just sank to a new low. It was very difficult to bring him out of it and I don’t think he ever fully recovered.

So what can we do to avoid a gloom and doom outlook and instead find the brighter side of things? I bring this up because all of us will come in close contact with such a situation in our life, either directly or indirectly, and knowing how to deal with it is something that will be of critical importance. In some cases professional psychological or even psychiatric help might be necessary, but in many other cases outlook can be changed by a positive attitude. Often we can train ourselves to find the best in things just by the way we spend our time and focus our thoughts and thereby put that smile back on our face. It involves creating a point of view that always sees the half empty glass as half full instead. If we focus on filling the glass instead of how empty it is, we change the entire perspective.

I’ve personally had periods when I was gloomy, suffering from limited bouts of grief and depression, but I’ve always found that by getting away from what’s troubling me and taking a fresh look from a new perspective, things turn out to be not nearly as difficult as I surmised. A couple of things I do that might be of help are simple and they don’t cost anything, but they can bring about a change for the good if practiced regularly.

First, I find a pleasant and peaceful space where I can be alone with my thoughts yet surrounded by evidence of beauty and wonder. I am fortunate to live in a rural setting where the glory of nature and energetic life is always abounding. I try to take at least an hour a day to just admire my surroundings and ponder my life and the gift that it truly is. It is fragile, yet wondrous, and should never be taken for granted. Our Maker wants us to enjoy it, relish it and live it in a way that is pleasing to Him.

And this brings me directly to the second point. I try to begin and end each day with prayer to Him. It is my way to thank Him for what I have and it requires me to communicate with Him often and regularly. My prayer or “talking time” with God keeps the lines of communication between us open and affords me a way to “clean the cobwebs’ out of my soul, open my heart to Him and turn my problems over to His Divine Majesty. This frees me up to focus better, live better, and appreciate the things we have much more. It makes Him an active part of my routine life and gives me peace, and peace is the key to reducing grief and depression and many other problems.

When we accept God into our lives, we notice a change in the way we feel and the way we act. Oh, we still make mistakes and use poor judgment since we are, after all, mere humans. But when we open our hearts to Him we receive inner peace and we experience joy in our lives, a joy which relieves those things that burden us. He brings us hope, love and the opportunity for eternal life. And once we accept this and are born again into Him, our eternity starts. It offers us permanent protection under His watchful eye.

If we are skeptical about this that is normal, but it’s important to reach into our inner selves and give faith a chance to come forward because our salvation is based upon faith. It’s why He gave us free will and the right to choose for ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t appreciate it; we would be mere robots.

And think about this. God’s grace and his love for us will meet every need we could possibly have with a wonder and majesty we can’t even imagine. The result is a permanent solution to our problems that will leave us never really wanting. And then, when the time comes that we have to face the death of a loved one, or even our own mortality, His comfort and strength will carry us through and give us the willpower and guidance to face whatever our future holds now or forever more. Could anything be more wonderful than that? It cannot be found.

So what kind of glass do you see in your future, half empty or half full? Have a great day and week ahead with the Lord in your heart as He yearns to fill your glass with his love and spirit. Hallelujah!

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida


AACC with Gary Webb and Norm Wright

Brian, Gary, and Norm at AACC

I recently had the privilege to meet and have breakfast with H. Norman Wright and Gary Webb. Norm is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist and his current focus is in grief counseling, trauma counseling and critical incident debriefings. Norm is the author of some 70 plus books and other media resources. Norm is also a frequent speaker on the topic of grief care. Gary is the CEO of Christian Counseling Professionals of New Mexico. Gary leads a team of 25 professionals based in Albuquerque that include a wide range of counseling services including grief and loss.

It’s always interesting the first time you meet an individual, especially meeting them over a meal, you don’t know what to expect. But with both Norm and Gary, you immediately know that they enjoy helping others and there’s a genuine warmth to both of them. It’s easy to see why both men are well respected and have helped thousands of individuals and families. They are trustworthy, good listeners, well respected by their peers and clients, and they are men of faith. If you’re looking for a grief counselor and some excellent grief care resources, you need to check out their websites: – H. Norman Wright – Gary Webb, Christian Counseling Professionals of New Mexico – Grief Care Resources at Shared Sorrows

Norm and Gary were gracious enough to pose in this picture with me.

Brian Beaman


You Need Someone You Can Trust

Over the last few months we have been talking about grief as well as what we need to do to make our final celebration of life as easy as possible for our remaining loved ones. I know everyone agrees, whether we’ve done it or not, that having a plan in place is important to make this possible. No one wants to leave as a memory a chaotic, stressful situation which makes added grief and depression a potentially serious problem.

In making our preparations, it is certainly important that we consider funeral planning services, funeral costs and estate planning as part of our deliberations. In doing so we also need to be sure that advice provided to our loved ones after our death is objective but also with a personal touch. Tenderness and compassion is needed in addition to professional competence. Carrying out plans, or dealing with the many different issues that come with death, requires clear thinking and a cool head. Unfortunately, when we are likely suffering from grief and depression from our loss, emotions often take over and objectivity goes out the window. So what can we do to preclude this from happening to those who love us?

One answer is the selection of an informal adviser to provide counsel and advice to those who must carry out our wishes. I’m not talking about someone necessarily with final decision-making authority, although some wish to do this via power of attorney. No, I’m referring here to someone you know well and completely trust, someone who can separate personal ties from the business end of your affairs, who can stand by to serve as a sounding board for your spouse or other responsible family representative when the time of need arises. This is someone in addition to the professionals such as lawyers, funeral directors, grief and depression counselors; it is someone more personal and relatable yet also competent to help. It is someone who is closer and more knowledgeable of you and your family than a business acquaintance.

My first realization of the importance of having a personal friend to confide in under these circumstances came as a child when my father died suddenly. My mom wasn’t thinking clearly and needed some help in dealing with all of the things that must be done. The neighbor next door, husband of Mom’s best friend, stepped in and really saved the day. A savvy and professional businessman, he steered her in the right direction and things went as smoothly as humanly possible. Our family couldn’t have done it without him.

Later as an Army officer, I was frequently called to serve as a Survivor Assistance Officer for families of service members who died while on active duty. My duties were to accompany the widow or other closest family member of the deceased through the process of insuring that all military requirements were handled professionally and properly. While my primary concern was providing support in receiving all Army benefits and entitlements, I couldn’t help but recognize that many additional issues these poor people faced were often without any competent advisor to help them. This is when I made a mental note to myself that when my time came to depart this earth, I was going to be sure this fate did not befall my loved ones.

So what kind of person should you consider to provide your family with an additional set of eyes to look at things objectively? Here are a few of the factors that I used in identifying the person to ask to do this service for me. Each of us may have different factors, but the point here is to identify those things that will make this person the best to fulfill your needs. Here’s my short list; you might add many more as well:
1. They should be someone you know and trust, a person with an impeccable reputation for honor and integrity.
2. They must be discreet and able to maintain explicit confidentiality.
3. They should be intelligent with some practical experience in business sufficient to have reasonable comprehension of the complexity of financial and legal matters.
4. They should be someone who is willing to be candid and forthright with the remaining loved ones, even in those issues where their views might not be initially popular. The thrust of their advice and support must be what is best for the family.
5. They should be a person of faith, not necessarily of the exact mold of yours, but at least recognizing the reality of a living God who is always available for us. Prayer by this person, as well as prayer by the family, plays a big role in getting life back to normal after a stressful and grieving experience.
6. They must be someone who is willing to devote sufficient time to provide the help needed and also be willing to follow up afterwards for a considerable period of time, usually about a year. Here it would be assumed that the person in question would likely have real concern for the family welfare and would likely stand by for a long time. This affords the family the security of knowing that they have someone who has real interest in their welfare not just for the short term.
7. They should be someone who does this out of the love in their heart and not for personal gain. Notice here that I am not talking about someone who does not perform their assistance for money; they are, rather, an extra pair of eyes to make sure that all the official providers of service are living up to expectations.

Friends, this is a tall order for anyone and be aware that when you are considering asking for someone’s commitment it will take a special person to agree. Anyone filling this advisory and part-time role has to be a person with true love in their heart as Jesus expects. Don’t be surprised if someone might be reluctant to agree to this commitment, but realize that whoever accepts will be rewarded in a much different way for a true act of kindness.
Each of us on occasion might also be called upon by a friend to act in this manner for them. The willingness to serve in such a way is a true sign of a kind and generous person who sacrifices himself for the benefit of others. At the same time, it is a true honor to be considered for this responsibility since it indicates that someone really values and trusts your judgment and goodness. Its rewards are in the feeling of accomplishment and the personal satisfaction of knowing that a commitment to something really special has been made.

I would also like to suggest that you look over the website to see the many helpful components available to help you. The site offers outstanding online funeral planning information and the service is as close as an email or phone call to provide other services you might need.

I hope this information has been helpful and at least makes us think about its benefit. And may God bless each and every one of us.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida


Being There for a Grieving Friend

Often we are called upon to help a family member friend who is grieving the loss of a loved one. While most of us are not counselors by profession, we feel that we must be as supportive as humanly possible.This can place us in an awkward situation since we might not be sure what to say and we certainly don’t want to upset someone in their time of grief.

Let me get one pet peeve off my chest right here at the outset. Never say, “I know what you are going through.” No, you don’t because each situation is different just like each person is different. We can never fully understand the breadth and scope of fear and concern faced by a particular grievant. Accordingly, it would be better to just say, “I am so sorry for your loss.”

A young Christian student named Kevin Halloran (website: recently published on his blog a list of eight grief counseling tips that might be helpful. These tips were drawn from the works of Christopher Lukas and Henry M. Seiden and offer some techniques used by professional counselors. While we laypersons are not professionals, a review of their substance might be helpful in better preparing us to help the family member or friend deal with the particulars of the situation they face.

I can’t overemphasize the point that counseling is best left to qualified counselors. Having said that, however, anything we can do to aid and comfort someone suffering a loss is beneficial if it is properly approached. Just remember that the points discussed are to be looked at as pointers and aids in helping in a more limited way. Let’s take a few moments to discuss them point by point.
#1 Establish a listening attitude. This sounds like an easy one but it is much more difficult than we imagine on the surface. We need to sit back and listen carefully to what the grievant is saying. It will give us clues about what they are thinking and how we can best help. Listening is not easy for most people; more often than not we are planning our response to what we hear while we should still be actively listening. When this happens we often miss much of the information being provided. Sometimes taking notes, either on paper or just mentally, helps, but always ask for permission when doing so.
#2 Saying back—telling people what you hear them saying—is where the whole process begins. When someone is telling you something important, it is critical for you to let them know that you actually hear what they say. One way to do this is to periodically interject what you have heard. An example would be an opening like this: “So what you are telling me is ….” This gives them the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions and it also lets them know that you are truly hearing them. Remember, just being there with them and lending an ear is probably the most important thing you can do.
#3 If you get stuck or don’t get it—say so. If you are told something that you don’t understand, ask for clarification. This accomplishes two things. First, it insures that you better understand the information which is important to getting things right. Second, it reinforces to the grievant that you are indeed listening intently to what you are being told.
#4 Another way of giving something is to say what you are feeling as you listen. A lot of what you hear from a grievant is his or her feelings, what the situation they are facing elicits from them emotionally. If you invoke a similar response, you let the grievant know that you are empathetic to their plight. A way of doing this is to open a response with a statement of what you feel when they tell you something. It could be something like, “When I hear you tell me that I feel that you are alone and searching for a special answer,” or something of this type. The goal is to keep the conversation going and to help the communicant open up. You might want to expand on why it makes you feel this way and it clearly puts you directly on their communication wavelength and shows them that you truly care.
#5 Sometimes it is possible to talk about what is going on between you and the survivor. Don’t be afraid to approach the concept of how the “give and take” impacts you as well. You might feel that you are not qualified to deal with the specifics and if so, that is ok. You might tell them that it makes you feel overwhelmed and you are not sure that you can provide what they need. This shows your humanity and honesty, and since the prime purpose of your being there is to provide a sounding board as a listener, that is also ok. Remember, ultimately the grievant must solve his or her own issues; you merely serve as someone to help facilitate that.
#6 Look for shifts in meaning. Look for signs that the grievant is actively working their way through their grief as the conversation continues. Are they beginning to grasp things and deal with them? Are they beginning to see that they still have a future and can handle things? Such changes in the conversation mean they are beginning to come to grips with their grief. It also means that your time spent with them is worthwhile.
#7 Be prepared for things to move slowly. Don’t hurry things. It takes time for feelings and fears to come out. People are generally protective and private in these matters and they don’t want to project themselves as being weak. Just keep the process open and active and give them plenty of time to open their heart. It all comes with due time.
#8 Be prepared to back off. This one is particularly important. Don’t push things too hard. Don’t expect too much. You may not be able to provide any help other than being there.

Sometimes a professional counselor is needed and that is not a bad reflection on you personally. All of us are different and respond differently to stress and grief. Always be aware of this.

I don’t want to overdo my caution but remember, you are not a qualified grief counselor. You are a concerned friend or family member and you want to be a help, not a hindrance. The eight pointers above, however, will give you a good idea of how to handle yourself when dealing with someone who is at a time in their life when they are very vulnerable and very sensitive. Use them wisely and use your own good judgment and understanding of the individual’s personality to help you as you move forward.

There’s one more thing you can do and although I’ve listed it at the end it is really the most important. You can take a moment before getting involved and pray to God for guidance. Let Him know how you feel about your mission and He will help you handle it in the best way. God is always the best resource. He knows each of us like an open book, our strengths as well as our weaknesses and he will give you wonderful counsel. You will then be able to go forward and truly be of help to the person who needs you in their time of grief and you will know that you have the guidance and inspiration necessary for the task.

I hope you have found this information helpful and I wish you the blessings of God always. Always stand with Him and you can never go wrong.

Written by:

James Dick


The Grief of a Military Man

EDITORIAL NOTE: This is the second in a series on the impact of grief on different categories of people and situations. Today’s discussion: The military man called back home from overseas service by the death of his wife and son.

As the Army Sergeant returned to base camp upon completion of a night patrol, he was met by his company commander and his platoon leader. They joined him in the mess tent for a cup of coffee and gently told him they had just received the terrible news from the Red Cross that his wife and youngest son had been killed in a car accident. His platoon leader accompanied him to his hut to retrieve his personal gear prior to immediate return home.

Stepping on board the helicopter for transport to the area Air Force Base for his flight back to the States he felt numb and lost. How was he going to be able to take care of this by himself? How could he raise his older boy and continue his military career and his overseas assignment? He had tough decisions to make and stressful days ahead upon arrival back home.

Life is full of tough days with many twists and turns and none can be much more difficult than this.


During my stateside assignment at the end of the Vietnam War I served as a Survivor Assistance Officer for over a dozen families. I handled a number of different challenges which were not expected at the time of the assignment and each required a unique approach. These included escorting a widow with major physical disabilities through the bureaucratic channels to apply for benefits, dealing with grieving parents who wanted nothing to do with me or the Army and even reaching a satisfactory arrangement with a man of the cloth who refused to allow the American flag on a casket in his sanctuary.

Each of these situations required patience, tact, and prayer to find a way to get the job done, yet none matched the challenge of a father in uniform losing the ones he loves back home. And in the case of the sergeant, since he is the actual survivor, many of the services such as those I rendered are his responsibility alone.

This soldier in a highly stressful and life threatening environment faces an almost insurmountable burden when the death of the person closest to him is added to his concerns. He is away from home, carrying out a combat mission demanding his utmost attention to the here and now. Suddenly, the one thing that is constant for him and gives him hope, his family, has been shattered.

He now must quickly make arrangements for a funeral, figure out how he will care for his son and also determine what the future will hold for his military career plans. All of these pressures being applied at once can easily push his emotions beyond the limits. It will take courage, faith and love and a lot of emotional support to overcome this situation. He needs caring and supportive people to stand with him.

The first thing he faces is emotionally the most difficult but probably resolved the most readily. He must show strength and courage while reuniting with his remaining son, quickly make plans for the funeral and conduct himself with the dignity and honor expected of a military man. Once these have been accomplished and he has faced the reality of his loss first hand, he has a couple of critical decisions to make which will have a major impact on his life and that of his son.

The first decision involves the care and upbringing of his son. As a combat soldier, his emergency leave is normally not more than thirty days in length. He has to determine if there is someone who can take care of his son while he finishes his tour. Is there a close relative such as an aunt or uncle or grandparents who can care for the boy in his absence? If not, there is one other option possible.

The Army has a provision for the compassionate reassignment of a soldier back to a stateside unit if no other option is available. The only problem with this from a career perspective is that when an overseas assignment is cut short it frequently brings up questions before career review boards and can have an adverse impact on promotions and assignments. The Army is after all a combat force and its soldiers must be ready to respond to all challenges thrown their way. For this reason, many soldiers requiring a compassionate reassignment end their military service on completion of their current enlistment contract.

As if this isn’t difficult enough, all actions must be resolved within the thirty day time frame so that the soldier can return to his active military responsibilities at the end of the leave. If his home is in an area near necessary support facilities and services it is easy to get things done but if it is in a remote location, accomplishing all tasks can be problematic due to time and travel requirements.

Additionally, the location of his home also impacts the likelihood of his neighbors understanding his plight. Living in a community with a heavily military components means that most people pitch in. If he lives in an area without many military families, his neighbors are less likely to know him well or to be as understanding.

All of these factors play a role in what he is going through and the ease with which he can get through his grief and immediate issues. This is where friends and good people can step in and help. If you know of a case like this, your compassion and caring for your fellow man in his time of grief and suffering will be invaluable and will be remembered.

Sometimes it is being a friend and just being there and other times it is running an errand or lending a helping hand. Whatever it is, we should be proud and feel privileged to serve our military friends in their time of personal need. It‘s the least we can do for those who serve us proudly and it will make you feel like you have really done something special because you have.

Isn’t helping your fellow man something expected of us? Can any time be more critical to help someone than during grief over a tragic loss? Think about it. The answer should be obvious.
Written by:

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida


The Distraught Little Boy

SPECIAL INTRODUCTORY NOTE: The following piece is directed to men and the importance they can play in helping young boys who are grieving over the loss of their father. This is the first blog entry about grief in a series on the subject which will be published every other week. It is designed to make each of us sensitive to the needs of many different groupings of people suffering through a family loss.
Imagine being a young boy summoned to the school principal’s office on a Friday afternoon.
You were day dreaming in class about the upcoming weekend and now you are worried about
being in hot water for something you don’t even remember.
Reporting to the office, you find your next door neighbor waiting for you with the principal.
You also notice that the principal looks sad, not her usual stern self. Something strange is going on.
The school administrator asks you to be seated and begins softly telling you to be brave and you
think to yourself, brave because of what? Then, suddenly, she whispers that the lady you’ve
known as long as you can remember is here to take you home because your daddy died about an
hour earlier.

As your mom’s good friend helps you put on your warm jacket, she puts her arm around you and
leads you out into the cold. You feel numb and confused and don’t know what you should do.
You want to cry but the tears don’t come.

That night when all of the friends and neighbors have left for the night and you are alone in your
bed, you face the dark truth of what has happened. Your father, the man who was always so
strong and took care of the family was gone and you didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.
You also know that you will never see him again in this world.

In the quiet of the night when you can hear a pin drop, you hear your mom softly sobbing from
the bedroom she shared with your dad for your whole life. You decide to get out of bed and go
to her for you know she feels alone.

Knocking on her door, you enter when she answers and ask, “Mom, are we going to be okay?”
She smiles through her tears and says, “We’ll be okay, Son, but the next few months are going to
be difficult. God will help us but he also expects us to be strong. Each of you children is going
to have to help me be strong, too. Can you do that?”

As she hugs you close, you respond, “We all will, Mom, because we love you”, and the tears
finally begin to roll down your cheeks.

The above situation actually happened, but it was over fifty years ago. I was that nine year old
boy and I can remember it as vividly today as that day long ago. I was afraid and worried about

what would happen to me, my mom and my siblings, but little did I know that there would be
one extremely positive outcome that I could have never imagined.

A retired man in our neighborhood, the father of one of my older brother’s good friends, became
an unexpected father figure for me. I didn’t find out until much later that he had called my mom
to check on how I was doing and asked if he could “take me under wing” if I needed a man’s

Mr. Floyd and I had much in common. We both loved trains. He retired from the old
Chesapeake and Ohio rail system after having spent many years traveling over the company’s
rail network. I loved trains as well and had a complete miniature railroad assembled in my

We both also shared a love for baseball. In his earlier days he was a top notch semi-pro baseball
player. He might have had a shot at pro ball but fractured his leg trying to steal home, leaving
him with a permanent limp. I was a young player, learning the game and playing every chance I
got both in organized and pickup team fashion.

Over the next ten years I spent many a Saturday afternoon watching the Saturday game of the
week with Mr. Floyd and his wonderful wife, Nell, who was one of the best cooks in town.
On game day she usually prepared a fresh baked ham and served it on homemade bread, still
warm from the oven. Accompanied by a slice of one of her gourmet pies or cakes and iced tea I
normally didn’t need any dinner when I went home.

Mr. Floyd gave me great pointers on the game, railroad memorabilia and, more importantly,
important things about life which would be with me forever. His counsel was always timely and
sound and I have never forgotten what he did to help me develop into a good citizen and decent man.
I still even have a couple of items that he gave me which I will always hold dear. These include an
official C and O Railroad engineer’s cap and a top of the line black Louisville Slugger, a surprise
gift he gave me on my tenth birthday.

After going away to college across country, I didn’t see Mr. Floyd very often anymore but I
always paid him a visit when I was in town. Even as he aged and had some health problems
he always remained cheerful with a wonderful outlook on life. His knowledge of baseball and
trains never waned. Even then my time with him was valuable and memorable.

He died while I was overseas in the Army but I have always remembered his guidance,
friendship and fatherly advice. It was something I needed and he always provided it with candor
but never harshly.

I tell this story because I think it’s important for all of us to understand the impact that the death
of a father has on a young boy. When you are faced with giving moral support to a family in this
circumstance it is important that you recognize the needs of that boy and offer whatever moral
support you can. It doesn’t have to be as extensive as what Mr. Floyd did for me, but whatever
you can offer will be appreciated. The boy is going to need a masculine influence in his life and it will
play an important part in his healthy growth into manhood.

Jesus Christ expects us to serve Him in all that we do on this earth. Nothing could be any more
worthwhile than providing a portion of your time providing a helping hand for a sad, lonely little
boy. Just give it a thought, won’t you?

God bless you.

Written by:
James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida


Grief Counselors and Grief Coaches: What’s the Difference?

One of the promising new areas of grief care is known as “grief coaching.” I like to distinguish between grief counseling and grief coaching like this: A visit with a licensed counselor is similar to a physician visit—a professional relationship in a structured environment. Meanwhile, a session with a grief coach is more like a long walk with a good friend. The coach may or may not be a trained professional, but more importantly he or she is a person well-acquainted with grief and willing to walk alongside someone who is bereaved.
I noticed recently that Dr. Michelle Peticolas has established a new grief coaching program called “Transforming Loss: From Surviving to Thriving.” Having experienced the loss of both of her parents in 1998, Dr. Peticolas began a personal journey in—and through—grief. She also served as a hospice volunteer for 10 years which I believe gives evidence to her passion about helping those who must travel through “the valley of the shadow.” To learn more about Dr. Peticolas and her work, visit