2018 - February - Gazette - Make it Matter

By: Jackie Hook
Thursday, February 22, 2018

Make it Matter

My husband and I attended the visitation for a family friend a few years ago. As we were greeting the family in the receiving line, I was struck by my interaction with our friend’s grandson. He made a real point to look me directly in the eyes, shake my hand firmly and really listen to my connection to his grandfather. I left that visitation feeling like there was more to that interaction than I knew.

A couple months later, we saw our friend’s widow. I told her about my visitation experience and she explained that her late husband often stressed to their grandson the importance of a kind and authentic greeting. When the grandson greeted guests that day, he “made it matter” just as his grandfather had encouraged – his grandfather was living on through him.

When we lose a loved one, the loss often invites us to consider how to make life matter in new ways. These considerations start with how we choose to care for our loved one after death, and continue through how we choose to live our lives.

One of the first choices after death is services. You have three general choices.

The first choice is having no gatherings or services and is similar to the following sentence: 

My loved one lived a life

Did you notice there is no punctuation at the end of that sentence? That is what having no services can feel like, you are left hanging and in limbo.

The second choice is having a “cookie cutter” service and is like this sentence:

My loved one lived a life.

This time there is a period at the end of the sentence letting us know a life ended, but that is all we know.

The third choice is a personalized service or gathering unique to your loved one and depicted by this sentence:

My loved one lived a life!

We now know a life ended and recognize what that life meant and will always mean. Studies have shown that services help you on your healing journey as well.

Families add exclamation points to their loved ones lives in many ways. They can have a ceremony and share pieces of their loved one’s life story. They can include favorite poems, readings and music. They can bring personal items to share, including pictures, tribute videos and other memorabilia. The options are endless.

If the family doesn’t want a full ceremony, they can have a remembrance service. When someone we care about dies, we have an innate need to come together and tell the stories of their life. It is an important part of the healing process to set aside this time and create a space to remember. A remembrance service is a smaller, more intimate gathering with opportunities to say things that otherwise may not be said. In one such gathering I facilitated, an “ex-family” member shared how grateful they were to have still been included in this family. From the reactions of those gathered, it was clear this sentiment had never been shared before. 

In addition to making things matter with choices shortly after death, Alan Wolfelt, an author, educator and grief counselor, says that one of the needs of mourners is to search for meaning. This search can involve questioning your faith and spirituality, asking “Why?” and “How?” and looking for purpose and meaning in your life. Wolfelt tells mourners to express this search outside of themselves to help find their way.

As I companion people involved in this search, I encourage them to be gentle with themselves and live the questions. I often quote Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet:

I want to beg you as much as you can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Many people living the questions do what they can to make things matter for themselves and in honor of their loved ones. Some try to live their best life; others try to make the world a better place.  And others work to make a difference in the lives of those close to them.

A tool that can help you have conversations around what matters most is the Have the Talk of a Lifetime deck of cards. We’ll be using this tool in our next monthly Monday’s Moments Grief Education and Support Complimentary Luncheon on Monday, March 12 from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott, 1730 University Drive, State College. At this gathering, we'll discuss ways to "make it matter" for ourselves and in honor of our lost loved ones. Space is limited. Email Jackie@JackieHook.com, call 814-404-0546 or sign up on the Koch Funeral Home Facebook page to RSVP by Wednesday, March 7. Next, we’ll meet on April 2nd with a theme of Healing? Engage with Nature! 

 We invite you to make it matter in your life!

Jackie Hook, MA, is a spiritual director and celebrant.  She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College.  For more information, please call 814-237-2712 or visit www.kochfuneralhome.com.

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