Ask Ann Archive: Previous Advice on Comforting and Grieving

Ann Van Buskirk

Should I go to the funeral of the father of my boyfriend's best friend?

Hi Ann,

My boyfriend's best friend's Dad passed away. I've never met the deceased but have met the Best Friend several times. I would like to show my support as I plan on having a long life with my boyfriend, and would probly know the Best Friend for the rest of my life. Would it be appropriate for me to take off work to go to the funeral? I'm unsure of my obligation as I'm young and have not attended many funerals. And I don't know the etiquette of whether to attend a funeral of someone you don't know very well or you don't know the family well. If I were off, I would probably go, but is it an obligation to take off a whole day to travel a couple of hours to go?

Thank you.

Dear Misty:

It's an interesting question. You have the right idea in wanting to be supportive. But the actual decision to go or not to go depends on how you want to be supportive. There is no obligation on your part to attend. And family situations can get dicey to the point where some family members may wish other family members would not attend. Everyone isn't always respectful, supportive or nice, which is what you are going for. There are no real absolutes.

The purpose of a funeral is to give space for the living to honor the life of the person who died. And while it's about the dead, it's for the living. I may have more questions than answers for you. First, do you have to go? No.

So if you don't have to, why would you want to? Well you say you want to show your support of someone who is dear to your boyfriend. You could send a card, or flowers, or a donation to a mentioned charity. All those ideas are acceptable, not as personal, but perfectly fine. If you choose to write a card, think of something you can tell the BF that is honest. Like, "I didn't know your dad, and by your sadness I can see I missed out of meeting someone special." Whatever you say, it will be received with appreciation. You are offering a kindness in reaching out to the BF.

On the other hand (there is always a second hand), you say you plan on having a long life with your boyfriend and will know his BF for years to come. A funeral is a very revealing experience. Who was the person who died, (not just your boyfriend's BF's Dad, but who was he in his community) what did he do, was he respected, successful, what were his dreams fulfilled, which were let go of and why, who makes up his family, what did he want to be when he was a kid, did he become that as a man? It will also reveal a great deal about your boyfriend. What has been his reaction? Did he know his BF's Dad? Were the three of them close? If so, you might want to see if you could find a picture you could frame to give the BF. Something personal is always welcome. Is he reluctant to talk about things or happy to share? Do you know that about him? Is it important to you to be with someone who is happy to communicate? Does it bother you to be with someone who does not communicate?

Maybe this is more than you wanted to know. But there it is. You can show the level of support that you want to both the BF, his family, and your boyfriend. And that may or may not entail going to the funeral. As far as needing to take the whole day off to attend the funeral, that isn't necessary if you can attend it and be there after for a short while in a couple of hours. For example, if the funeral is in the morning or afternoon, you could just ask for that portion of your day off from work.

I hope this helps you decide. If you can't really decide for some reason, go. Err on the side of being supportive, of being there to offer a smile and express your choice to stand beside someone who is grieving. That's a kindness that will be long remembered.

Should I go to the funeral of boss's brother?

Dear Ann,

What is the proper thing to do?

My boss's younger brother passed away on Saturday and his funeral is this thursday and I would like to attend.

I have worked with my boss for nearly 2 years, and we have a very open working relationship and I feel that if I did not attend, that I would be disrespecting him. Do you think I should attend? I have already sent him a potted plant.

Please let me know what you think.

Dear Shauna:

Attending the funeral of someone who is important to a person we care about is a sign of respect, even if you did not know the person who died. The fact that you feel it is the right thing to do is enough reason to do it. Your boss is likely to be very sad and upset at the death of his younger brother. Seeing that his employees care enough about him to attend the funeral will make him feel that you are honoring his brother, and that will mean a lot to him.

I've always found it interesting how much you can learn about a person by attending his or her funeral. Very often you may have only known the person from work or from mutual social activities, so you don't really know the whole person. At the funeral you may find out that the person had done many things that you didn't even know about.

By all means go to the funeral. Let your boss know you are there to support him, especially later when he returns to work. People grieve in different ways. He may not want to talk about the death of his brother with you. But if he brings it up, listen. Don't shy away. Most of the time the person who is grieving doesn't expect you to really tell him/her what to do, they just want to be able to talk about. Being a good listener is the best thing you can do.

Should I go to the funeral of boyfriend's sister?

Dear Ann,

It is my boyfriend's sister's funeral next week. In over 4 years I'd never met his sister. I have met her son however.

My boyfriend's sister-in-law thinks I should go, I think perhaps I ought to, just as a sign of respect and solidarity for the grieving teenager, and yet my boyfriend has not mentioned one single thing to me about the funeral and in fact glared at me when I mentioned contacting the florist. I know through the sister-in-law, who is a friend of mine, that my boyfriend intends taking his mother, and one of his brother's in his car.

I don't like to not do anything as it seems rude but in consideration of my boyfriend's reaction when I mentioned flowers, I feel he and his Mum would be really angry with me if I sent some.

(PS: My boyfriend and his mother did not talk to the deceased when she was alive)

Dear Tina:

Isn't it odd how trying to do the right thing can bring up a mine field of response? Sometimes, doing the right thing is not as easy or as healthy for all as doing something that seeks peace for all parties.

Sounds like you won't be able to please your boyfriend and his mom in this situation, but really that's not your concern. Your concern is expressing condolences and respect to a teenager you met who is in pain. Good manners.

I'd suggest you write a card to the teenager and give it to your friend, the sister-in-law to pass along to the grieving teen. What to say? Be honest. While you didn't know his mom, you know this loss will be hard to handle. But the pain won't last and you hope he'll always remember the best of times with his mom. If you believe he has friends and family to count on, remind him of that, that he is not alone. Let your good sense guide you and don't second guess what you write.

As for the boyfriend and his mom, while a glare can be over looked, the fact that he hasn't brought up any aspect of the funeral is bothersome and might be something you want to look at in your relationship. Since he hasn't talked to his sister in years, he doesn't appear to be the most communicative person. However for the purposes of the funeral, take your cues from him and don't push yourself into a place you are not welcome. Later, when things have calmed down, if this is an aspect about your relationship you want to discuss, by all means, do so. Try not to judge him or his family. You don't know the whole story.

If you can do these things and be at peace with your decision, you'll have also done the right thing.

My friend lost her newborn babies. How can I help her?

Dear Ann,

A friend Lisa lost triplets. They were born when she was six months pregnant, 2 boys and a girl. They lived for three days and all three babies died. She is grieving and in so much pain she is losing her faith.

I pray for her all the time and I just wish I could comfort her more. Please help.

Dear Jeanine:

A response to a letter like yours is so hard. I hope I can help you and Lisa. I've written before that the loss of anyone we love is devastating. I don't want to diminish the life of anyone loved by saying this loss is greater or worse than that one. Still I can't help but feel that the loss of a child strikes with more pain. I think it is because the loss of a child is the loss of the future. You lose your dreams, your hopes, your place in the world and for a while, all becomes black and white and grey. Colorless and senseless. Your friend, Lisa, and those who love her, are in for a very difficult time.

The effect of someone dying is that change in life occurs. Those changes are what create our growth as a person, or the lack of it. The death of many effects many. The agony in Indonesia is showing us that right now.

Change in life occurs. What changes are occurring in Lisa's life? You say her faith is being challenged. Good for her. Faith is not meant to be some namby-pamby old sweater we put on when the wind picks up. It's a shield against storm, it's a flower growing impossibly against a cliffside, it's a source of comfort in immeasurable pain and one bright ray of light against a consuming darkness.

Losing her babies did not just happen to her. This is a change in life, all life, all lives that are within Lisa's circle of life. You are effected, her husband is effected, co-workers, friends, family, her doctor, her nurses, other mothers in the hospital, nieces, nephews, children of friends, others who may yet read this posting, people she doesn't even know, all will be effected. If it isn't by chance or punishment, what good could possibly come from such an event?

Lisa may learn who loves her, truly loves her, loves her when she's in despair, loves her when she feels and acts ugly, loves her when there is nothing to say, nothing to do but sit beside her and rub her back as she cries. She may learn who wants her to be "normal again" and come to realize that while she may pick up the pieces, her life is now forever changed.

What can you do? Love her. Be there to listen. Judge not. Judge nothing that comes out of her pain and anger and twisted thinking, but give those thoughts and comments a place to go, so they no longer grow within her but are released from her heart and head. That's how love will have the space to heal. By your listening, she can't hold on to those feelings with the same strength.

What else can you do? Watch over her. Is she eating? Sleeping? Maybe you go over to her house with a delicious gooey comfort food something and soothing music, and then just tuck her in on the sofa and let her sleep while you sort through the condolence cards that need a reply, or clean the kitchen, or make sure her clothes are washed and the bed changed, and there's food in the fridge and the dead flowers are thrown away. Little things. None of which are really vital, but all of which show you cherish her.

Say your prayers for her. Give thanks that you can be there for her, that this pain isn't yours. Consider how to show your gratitude for your blessings.

I believe when people die they leave a bit of their light behind, to guide those who love them, to offer a light against the darkness their leaving causes. It's there in the night's sky, we have to look up to see it. May you look and find there are three more stars in heaven now.

I will include you and Lisa, and those who love you, in my prayers.

How do I comfort friends who lost their pets in a fire?

Dear Ann,

A friend of mine recently lost their home and two beloved pets to a fire. Having never experienced this myself Do you have suggestions on what to say to them to help them grieve. I want to help them tremendously. However, I do not want to offend them with any offerings. Thanks.

Dear Kierstie:

Thank you for writing. What a good friend you are to see their need and be willing to help.

You said they lost their home. We give everything a meaning. You didn't say they lost their house, or their apartment and all their stuff. They lost their home. Home is shelter, a center of being. It is a place of security and of sanctuary. When it is breached, that's a blow. When it is destroyed, it can be devastating. Pets are our companions, offering only love, giving us devotion, making us laugh, being a witness to our lives. And so, with all this to deal with your friends are going to need...what?

You want to help them tremendously. That tells me you love these people. I'm going to assume their initial needs are being met, they've found a place to live, have some clothes, have food, and are going to work. If they are not at that stage yet, then sharing what you can will be of benefit.

First be practical. Literally, what can you do? Do you have time to help them sort through things, paperwork, make calls on their behalf, do the leg work so they have the correct person, extension, phone number? Make a dinner, offer some clothes, do laundry, bring them to your place for a movie. If the practical things are taken care of by insurance and other organizations that deal with it, move on to their emotional needs.

Healing is a matter of offering space, comfort, and compassion. Sometimes people need to be alone, or be with someone outside their loss (a friend) or re-connect with family. Are those situations being created? Can you take one friend to lunch so the other can have some space? Can you bring other friends together for a potluck so they don't have to focus on what they lost but on what and who remains? Do you have photos of all of you together? Do other friends have such photos? Make an album of memories for them. Be sure to include the pets in the album.

To offer compassion is often the most challenging. You want to listen and listen and listen. Let your friends express their grief and do not judge what they say. A loss as great as this creates a great gunk inside of dark emotions, anger, despair, jealousy, apathy. The only way to clean these emotions out is to create a space from which they can escape. Most people don't want to witness grief and therefore leave a friend with their darkness. By simply being willing to listen, you will help your friends let go of their angst and thus create space for love to fill the whole/hole of loss.

Count your blessings. Remind them of theirs. Stand beside them. You are then doing the best thing you can for them.

I will include you all in my prayers that peace and balance come to your lives again soon and that the new year brings you all joy.

How do I get over my anger to help my husband who is grieving the death of his mother?

Dear Ann,

My mother-in-law passed away March 2003. It was a difficult transition because she was diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder. My husband and I are grieving very differently due in part to her mental state. Her illness drove a gap between all three of us that was not mended at time of death. My husband had always been very close to his mother prior to the last six months of her life. Her strong negative reactions to him near the end must be hard for him to deal with. I have very strong feelings regarding my mother-in-law because of the way she treated me the last three months of her life. It is very difficult to think of her as any where near to being a kind loving person. It does not seem to me [that] my husband has done much grief work. How can I be supportive for him and encourage him to continue the grieving process when I feel so much anger and pain toward his mother?

Dear Jennifer:

You have a choice, you can be right or you can be at peace.

Are you right to be angry that your mother-in-law was hurtful during her last months? Of course you are. But anger is a cry for help. Was she cruel to you and to your husband? Cruelty is a cry for love that comes from deep in a person's inner most belly, a place that's dark and frightening, even to themselves. It is most likely too that your mother in law would lash out at you and your husband because she was certain of your love, certain you would not abandon her, certain you would not walk away and never come back. It kind of goes back to the marriage vows, in sickness and in health, doesn't mean simply yours. It means will you stand beside me while I live through the sickness and the health of those I, you, and we love?

That said, what can you do?

Forgiveness is the best remedy for pain and isolation. Begin with yourself. Forgive yourself for all the times you lost your temper. Forgive yourself for all the times you walked away when you couldn't handle things. Forgive yourself for not holding the space she needed while she struggled with her demons. Forgive yourself for not understanding what she was going through, simply because you could not.

I'll bet you're surprised I said to begin with yourself. But you see, you must begin where the need is greatest. Your mother in law doesn't need anything now. And your husband didn't write to me. You did. So you begin with you.

You asked "how can I be supportive for him and encourage him to continue the grieving process when I feel so much anger and pain toward his mother?"

Look to your husband. Is he a loving man? Is he kind and generous and thoughtful? If he is, who helped make him that way? Odds are that his mother nurtured many of the qualities you truly love in him. I say this because you say he's grieving and he was close to her, in spite of her being so negative. If we are lucky enough to have been raised by loving parents, we still have to allow them to be person enough in their own right. A parent may be a parent for life but he or she is also more than that. I don't know about the disease she suffered but I do know she must have been scared. When you are frightened you are not reasonable no matter what it looks like to someone else. Remember when you were a little girl and scared of a spider? Remember how you'd scream to get it away from you? Your mom or sister or brother would come in the room and chide you for your fear saying, look how tiny it is, look how much bigger you are, the spider is probably more scared of you than you are of it. All those lovely rational thoughts that meant nothing to you until someone eliminated the threat. If your mother-in-law was afraid, how would she deal with it? And since the fear came from deep within her, how could anything outside her eliminate it?

Forgive your mother-in-law. It will help your husband. You will not carry anger within you for someone he loves. He could then draw closer to you because you will have made more space for him in your heart. While you hold anger, you block that loving space.

People die so that change in life can occur. What changes are occurring in your life? What do you want to keep? What do you want to let go of? Who do you want near you? Who is supporting you? These are some of the questions that give you a chance to observe what is happening around you. In answering them you get to learn a great deal about yourself and those you love and those who love you. Honor the living. Honor the whole life that has passed but do not dwell there. Time will go by swiftly but it isn't time that heals all wounds, it's love that does.

I hope that soon you can look toward the night's sky and notice one star you never saw before and accept the blessing that your mother-in-law left behind for you to love and cherish.

Why am I grieving so hard for my father nearly a year after his death?

Dear Ann,

My name is April. I lost my father on July 7, 2003. My father had a very bad heart and died at the age of 64. I am 31, will be 32 on Fathers' Day! Imagine that. He has not left my thoughts in 11 months.

Thursday morning I woke up crying realizing that I dreamt of him all night, crying all night. That day at work I just couldn't stop crying. Why now am I grieving so hard? Is it normal for a person to start doing different things like gardening, Garage sales, Home improvement, which all of these things I never did before. I consumed myself in these things for about 8 mo. I traveled to 3 major cities in 6 mo. I have friends there, that made it easier to travel. I just kept moving. In all this time I think I cried maybe twice. Is this normal? I know it probably is, but since I didn't mourn his death right when he died, will it be harder that I'm mourning now, a year later? I have no children or married. I feel like he'll miss all of this when and if I ever do. Give me some insight please.

Dear April:

Okay, let's look at what you've let me know and see if I may offer you some perspective. Your first question was "Why now am I grieving so hard?"

April, you've been grieving deeply since your father died. You have been "consumed" these last 8 months with all manner of different activities so you can remain distracted from what may be outwardly observed as grieving. You were keeping as busy as you could in body and mind, moving everything you could, so you wouldn't have to feel your pain.

I don't know what happened on Thursday to pierce your control, but it is normal to cry when you are in pain. It's also normal to push things away or create distance (within and outside of self) when you are in shock. You're trying to protect yourself from feeling the pain.

Please, stop.

It will not be worse that you do not feel now. But you have no opportunity to heal as long as you refuse to feel. Whether the experience is like ripping off a bandaid or not is sort of up to you. I think it's often proportional. If you have loved someone deeply, truly, they have the power in life to hurt you that way, truly, deeply, and their death has the same power of pain. The other half of that equation is feeling the great love and learning how to go on. How to become your self without him/her in your life, how to honor your memories and how to create a space where your loved one is not forgotten but the pain associated with their passing is much less in focus than the joy and lessons and memories you shared.

Your dad will be a part of you all your life. Think of all the things you shared. I bet you have some of his characteristics, shared likes, shared dislikes. Perhaps you are adventurous because of him. Perhaps you put Russian dressing on your cottage cheese because of him. Perhaps you love folk music because he introduced that to you. These are things you will want to share with others you love and as well as the children who may become part of your family.

Since I know this time can be complicated and sorting out feelings is a challenge, I also whole heartedly recommend you seek out a hospice bereavement group in your area. The one I attended here in San Diego was great. There were people in the group who had lost loved ones a week before the meeting, a year before the meeting and even longer. It seems there are no defined time limits on grief.

Personally, I believe your dad will be watching over you. That's why I like to look at the night's sky. I've said I believe when a person dies, they leave a bit of light behind, the light of love. It's there in the night burning bright as a star to guide us through our own darkness.

When you look, I trust you will find one more star in heaven now.

How can I help one of my students deal with the death of his father?

Dear Ann,

One of the students (10 y.o., 4th grade) lost his father recently. What would be the best way to help him with grieving, within the school environment. Thanks!

Dear Alicia:

Often when I lecture, I stand before the group and see a tight anxious faces. It's as though they are waiting for me to drop a hammer on them. I ask everyone to take a deep deep breath, then exhale. They start to relax. I ask them to do it again, and then again. They begin to lose the inner tension. After the third deep breath I tell them I am not there to talk about death, rather I'm going to talk about life, and death is a part of it. Their faces show they are now interested and not afraid to listen and perhaps even talk about their experiences.

With one of your students being impacted so strongly in his life, it would be a good time to open a discussion about life and how death is a part of it.

It's important people, and of course children, understand that indeed "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven". The challenge is how to explain that.

There are several books that address this issue specifically for children. One I recommend is The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo F. Buscaglia. It is a children's classic about a leaf named Freddie who, with his companion leaves changes, with the passing seasons, finally falling to the ground with a winter's snow. It is a lovely allegory illustrating the delicate balance between life and death.

It's also important for children to understand the dynamics of the body as regards to death. It would be a good discussion about the body, how it works. That when a person dies, the body ceases to function, there is no pain, there is no thought. I don't know how the issues of faith and God are discussed in schools at that level, but it would be helpful to have a discussion with your student at least to determine his beliefs. If it could be an open discussion with other students, that would benefit all of them. You might also call his home and ask what his mother and family want to share.

Of course I would urge you to continue to keep an eye on him in a friendly manner. Sometimes a child shows more at school than a mother can see because of all the additional emotional, financial, and familial obligations she has. As his teacher, you play an important part in guiding him. Just being willing to listen is an enormous help and often what makes the difference in staying connected in a world that has just been tipped end over.

What can I do to help my mother let go of her grief and anger?

Dear Ann,

My mom lost her husband of 10 years to a massive heart attack. He was only 47. She is bitter and angry and it has almost been a year. It is getting to the point where nobody wants to talk to her or be around her. She always says everyone has gone on with their life. She doesn't enjoy life at all. She doesn't even enjoy her grandchildren who are 10, 8, 2 and 4 1/2 months. These are my kids I'm talking about. She hasn't even seen my youngest.

My mom lives 4 hours away and there isn't much I can do since we live so far away. She acts as though we are nothing and mean nothing. She has even told me and her stepkids that she wishes it would have been one of us who died instead. What are we to do for someone who is so cruel to us, and we are grieving too? I know my stepdad would want us all to be there for her, but she makes it so hard. Is how she is acting normal? Please help!!

Dear Amber:

The first thing you can do for someone who is being cruel while you too are grieving is forgive her. Forgive her for her cruelty, her selfishness, and her bitterness. Forgive her for being willing to suffer, for being willing to inflict pain on herself and on others. Often, the greater the wound, the greater a personís inability to deal with it. Like an animal, a person can be so lost in pain, they lash out at anyone trying to help. Itís difficult to know what may bring her out of it. Of course I would suggest the assistance of professionals, to help her deal with the changes grief brings to her body, mind, and spirit. You may want to take a slightly active roll in calling a clergy, doctor, or older family member of hers to ask that person to call your mom to help her.

Some of the questions that your mom may be asking herself, and you or your other family members may be asking themselves, is "Is there something I could have done to change this outcome?" I donít know, a young man, massive heart attackÖtoo many factors you didnít mention. I donít know. And the point is, you donít know either. No one can know for certain.

One of the reasons you need to forgive your Mom is so that you donít have to carry the pain and disappointment her actions are causing you around with you. Thatís pain youíre causing yourself. In forgiving her, really forgiving her, you can move on to taking care of yourself, your kids, and your step-sibs. Now this may take some time. Itís not like you can simply say, "Okay, I forgive you" and itís done. You need to spend some time sitting in your emotions, so to speak, and that can be painful for you. This is why most people donít do it and so they have the push-pull, anger-apathy, attack-withdrawal repeating itself endlessly in the relationship.

The next thing you can do is forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for whatever is hiding in your heart, causing you guilt, making you afraid. Look in your heart. Be willing to look. Being willing to see the truth doesnít mean some huge change will happen. But bringing light to the darkness will show you the real from what is made up in your head. Then you decide what you want to keep and what you can let go of.

Whatever the circumstances that have brought you to this point, this much is clear. You are suffering loss. The loss of your step-father, potentially the loss of your relationship with your mother and thus the loss of your children'sí grandmother. I use that word loss because itís true. Whatever your relationship was before, it will never be that way again. Change. Notice what has changed.

Itís my personal belief that we are here for only two reasons; to learn how to love and to teach what we learn. It is also my belief that people die so that change in life can occur. Look around you. See what has changed. Who has stood beside you through this turbulent time. Who turned away? Who is there for you now? Have you become a better mother, seeing how your mother is behaving? Have you become closer to your step-sibs? What do you see differently now? What do you want to remember? What do you want to teach your children? What do you want them to learn, about life, about love? These are the lessons that the loss of someone we love teaches us.

I urge you and other members of your family to seek out help, hospice, the counsel of wise people, friends, etc.

No comfort can ease all grief. Time and grace will help. I believe when someone dies, they leave a bit of light, the light of love, to let you know they are still there for you. Everything else falls away, except the light. Thatís why there are so many stars in the nightís sky.

Look up toward heaven. The light of everyone who has ever loved shines brightly there to remind you. You are loved and you are not alone. When you look, you will find, there is one more star in heaven now.

You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

How can I deal with a widower who wants more than friendship?

Dear Ann,

I am a 43 year old woman who met a widowed man, 62 years old, on an on-line dating service. He is a very nice man who lost his wife of 36 years to cancer five months ago. He says he is ready to date, and we have, casually, as friends. I am comfortable with being friends and going to dinner with him, but he seems to want more of a "girlfriend", relationship. I have not even let him kiss me because I don't want to give him the wrong impression. His wife's pictures are on display at his house, and he drives her car. How do I know, you might ask? He picked me up in her car, and told me about it on the way to dinner. I felt uncomfortable with it.

In addition, he talks about his deceased wife quite a bit during our outings. Everything reminds him of his wife and activities they did together.

I've told him several times that he is not ready for any more than friendship; giving examples stated above. He keeps pushing for more out of the relationship. This makes me uncomfortable.

Please advise on how to handle this delicate situation. I'd like to maintain a friendship with this man, if possible.

Dear D.

Very interesting numbers here. He was married for more than half his life and married her when you were seven years old.

Most of what I've observed is that men tend to want to "fill in the blanks" that the loss of a spouse creates. That's not to say that women don't or that all men do but men tend to be more creatures of habit, just my observation again. One woman I know who lost her husband after many many years of marriage said it was as though all the color had washed out of her life, leaving everything sort of dull and grey. It took her quite some time to see the colors again.

Friends of someone grieving will often encourage them to "move on with their lives". I think no disrespect is intended. Rather, I know it is difficult to see a friend in pain and to hold that space so someone can indeed grieve.

Now your gentleman friend says he's ready to date. But you are aware that his actions are at cross purpose to his words. That's why I like observations. It takes a huge effort to "clean house" after an emotional upheaval, and so it's often done in stages. But while it's normal that he would talk about his wife, it's not good dating etiquette.

I also find it interesting that you haven't let him kiss you. It makes me think you aren't really attracted to him "in that way" and that's okay. In any dating relationship, when a guy pressures you and it makes you uncomfortable, you have to look at why you are attracted to him and what makes you want to continue the relationship? It takes time to build a friendship and if your friend wants "more than that", well then he doesn't want to be friends before he is your lover. You may not want it to work that way.

You've been trying to tell him what his feelings are, pointing out it's too soon for him. I think you need to tell him it's too soon for you. And as anyone who values your friendship would say, if that's not enough for him, it's his loss.

In spite of our national obsession of watching people compete for affection or simply behaving badly on television dating/reality shows, the truth is there are good people out there who are ready for relationships. They know themselves. They are looking for partners, companions, friends. You will find him.

How do I get my father back?

Dear Ann,

My name is Jennifer and I am 19 years old. 14 months ago I lost my mom to pneumonia. 3 months ago my father started dating a woman. She is nice to me (most of the time), but she is ALWAYS around. I never see him without her anymore. I feel as though she is way too close to our family. He chooses her over me all the time. he spent all of Christmas, and Christmas Eve with her....I didn't see him at all and we live at the same house. He hurt my feelings so bad.

When I confront him....he has nothing to say. I am not sure what to do. Part of me feels so worthless. I'm scared that if things continue to go this way I will leave and never speak to him again...and I don't want that to happen.

Dear Jennifer:

That's quite a load for a young woman to carry. Let's see if I can offer you some perspective.

Not to diminish your pain in this difficult situation but I had to grin when I read that your Dad's friend is "ALWAYS" around. I know just what that's like. Awkward, a headache, uncomfortable, frustrating, it's a pain right between the shoulder blades. I have sisters and growing up it seemed that their boyfriends were always around. They could never understand why I wasn't always thrilled for them. My friends who are married (with children and pets) would now trade (almost) anything for some time alone. It's normal to want what we don't have, even if it's time alone with Dad. And it's funny, but there are times when my Dad just doesn't get that I want to spend some time alone with him because I like his company, not because I need something or want to cry on his shoulder or have him fix something.

The thing is, when someone you love dies, everything changes. We're not taught that change is the natural order of life. We're taught that change is difficult or uncomfortable. That's why we fear it. If we were taught instead, "Look... you will get another piece of the puzzle that makes up your life when you go through this experience", maybe we'd be more interested and less afraid. Maybe. When your mother died, you had a whole number of new experiences that were/are shaping you into the woman you are becoming. Your Dad is going through changes too. He lost someone who shared his life (through you) for 19 years. However great or tough their relationship was, he is at a loss too. Parents are not infallible, they can sometimes take a long time to grow up, they can be selfish, they can be stupid and mean, they can be sheltering and comforting, they can be funny and generous, they can be everything because they are human. You can be anything you want to be; you are human too.

I also don't think he is choosing her over you. I think he is choosing himself over anyone else. By that I mean this woman must have something that makes him feel good about himself. And he really wants to feel how he feels when he's around her. That doesn't mean he doesn't love you or doesn't want to spend time with you or wants to hurt you. It means right now he wants to feel good more than he wants to feel responsible for how you feel. I say that because when you confronted him with your feelings he had nothing to say. So you have to be responsible for how you feel and find your own solutions for when you feel bad. Maybe you start going to art museums, or begin projects you like that keep you busy, get a part time job that has you meeting new people, maybe you take up a new sport, or keep a journal so your feelings have a place to be. Whatever it is, let it nurture you when people cannot.

Relationships are sometimes like a tug-of-war. You're spending a great deal of energy trying to "drag" your Dad to your side and he's resisting. That's making you feel frightened (why you want to run or leave home) and yet you know that may not be the best thing for you because you say you don't want that to happen. So what do you do?

Drop the rope. Quit resisting. Assuming your Dad isn't a grade "A" doofus, that you do love him and have felt loved by him for years, stop fighting yourself and him. I agree that it was terrible timing for him to be "gone" at Christmas but there are going to be times when you are gone too. That's just the way it is.

Rather than fighting this relationship, look at it. Why does your Dad like her? Really, why? See if you can figure out what it is. Is she funny, does she take care of him; does he feel good around her? You are being honest and mature to point out she is nice to you most of the time. I'll bet you're nice enough to her most of the time too. Talk to her. Tell her why you don't feel comfortable around her.

Seek the counsel of other wise women. Is there someone you trust? A teacher, someone at church, a friend's mother? You need someone to talk to too.

At the risk of sounding like some old parent, one day, you'll be a wife and a mother and you'll try to do all you can to protect your children from feeling the pain of the "cold cruel world", but you won't be able to, because sometimes you'll be the one to cause it. We have an extraordinary capacity to love people. We let fear stop us. Be courageous, Jennifer. Be willing to love yourself the best you can through this difficult time. Ask for help from friends and others you love.

If you want to write again, I'll be here. May I also suggest that you read my response to "G" at the Previous Ask Ann columns website (the link is at the bottom of the page). It would be the first one you come too. You might find it interesting as well.

I send you a warm strong hug. You'll be okay, it will get better, chin up.

Is it right that my father is seeing another woman so soon after the death of my mother?


I lost my mom in January. My dad calls and tells me he's dating a woman he met at his bereavement seminars. She lost her husband to cancer in March. I went down to his house this weekend and found out that they are telling each other that they love each other, and dad has moved his wedding ring to the other hand. What do I do? I am very uncomfortable with it.

When he first told me he was just dating I was o.k. I knew it would break up the loneliness, But now that all these other things have happened I am very uncomfortable with it and with him. I have had other issues with him earlier in life. When I was 15 he cheated on my mom. I guess I feel like he's cheating on her again. Can you give some advice to get through this? 1

Hi G.

My heart goes out to you at the loss of your mother. My heart still aches for mine, not with the pain I felt when she died but when I wander the empty space her passing left in my life. I long for things to go back to the way they were, even though I know they canít.

First I would ask how are you doing? Have you been able to cope with your loss? Do you have friends or other family with whom you can talk, not just about your mom, but also about how you feel? Before you say, "I'm okay", think about it. Are you sleeping through the night, are you exercising, are you eating okay, not doing anything really to excess? Have you had a chance to remember your mom in ways that make you smile or laugh out loud or cry or do things you know would make her proud? If youíve answered yes to most of those questions, we can go on. If you didnít, please take care of yourself. You have a life to live and your contribution is needed by all.

As for your father, parent-child relationships, no matter how old the parent or the child, well, theyíre just plain tricky. Itís the wise person who can see his/her parent as an adult who makes mistakes and is trying to live life the best he/she can. I must confess right here Iím not that wise. I did not want my dad to be lonely. But I resented the hell out of him for finding someone else. I thought that meant my mom was replaceable. I thought that meant I was replaceable. I was wrong. It did mean my dad was lonely. He was accustomed to hearing someone in the kitchen when he came home from work. He was afraid of being left alone, not just in the house, but in his life. He wanted to share his life with someone. And he chose someone.

I tell you what I know to be the truth. You get to choose how you will react to what happens to you. You donít get to choose what happens, just how youíre going to feel about it. You probably you felt ďhow can dad do this to momĒ when he cheated on her when you were 15. Thatís still young enough to think your parents were reliable and flawless. You may have thought ďDad made promisesĒ and saw him break them. Maybe you were afraid he couldnít be trusted after that.

But Iíd also be willing to believe that there were things you didnít see. Maybe you didnít see your dad ask for forgiveness. Maybe he never asked it of you. The relationship between a husband and a wife is just that, private, theirs. Kids think they have a right to everything, not the least of which is their parents' undivided attention, adoration, and loyalty. Sometimes it doesnít work that way.

Itís wise of you and mature to see that your dad is lonely now. Heís not cheating on your mother; heís trying to do things in the right way by telling you about them. He didnít replace your mother. Sheís not replaceable. He may not even be sure of his own feelings because his wedding ring went to the other hand, not to a drawer.

You know you have to talk to him. Tell him what youíre feeling and why. Thatís your responsibility. Doing those things will pull the emotions out of you. Tell him he can take some time to think about your comments. Remember, you will have had time to think about what youíre going to say. Then, and this is the really tricky part, then you have to listen to what he says. He may surprise you. But in any event, you will have addressed what is bothering you. Youíll understand yourself a bit better. And the reason that it is up to you is because you want to handle it. In that respect, you are being compassionate and kind to yourself and to your dad. I know that would make your mom be proud of you.

I ll be thinking of you.

How can I help a friend who won't deal with her grief?"

My friend's mother died 4 years ago when my friend was 23. She feels she never really got to know her as an adult since she went to boarding school and then straight to university. Her mother died 4 months after being diagnosed with cancer. Her sisters (one younger and one older) are both dealing with it but she is not. She feels she has been badly hurt and lives her life in fear of being hurt again. She can only speak of her mum for a few minutes and then she clams up, and stays silent. She is always joking and doesn't like to take things seriously. I think she may be depressed. It's been 4 years. What can I do as a friend to help her? 1

Dear V,

I think you are already helping your friend by being concerned and supportive. In that she is blessed.

One of the most difficult aspects about losing someone you love is that sense of separation, that no-way-to-fix-things-now kind of malaise. Many people will respond to loss/separation as your friend has, by trying to mask it with humor. If your observation is accurate when you say she "lives her life in fear of being hurt again", she may well be depressed to realize that won't work. She will be hurt again, she will miss opportunities, and she will be disappointed in people. Those are real aspects of life. Just as loving wholeheartedly, taking chances, trusting yourself and others are other aspects of life. It's my opinion that we get to have it all. The joy and sorrow, and sometimes we get them at the same time.

You say both her sisters are dealing better with the loss of their mother. Do you know why? Could you talk to them about it? It may give you some insights. Is your friend close to her sisters? I don't imagine she is if time and distance separated them from her as it did from their mother. If that's the case, you might encourage the three sisters to do something together to create a memorial for their mother. Encourage your friend to make sure her current relationships are as she would like them to be. Even had her mother lived, there are no rules or guarantees that say all would have, should have, could have been better than it was. Again, it's the loss of opportunity to find out that is so painful. But as painful as it is, how much more painful would it be to shut yourself off from ever creating honest (good and bad) relationships with others. Her choice.

I would also encourage your friend to seek out a hospice group or other sort of support group. You can check out a variety of web sites for good support information. There she would meet a variety of people who are dealing with a variety of circumstances and one shared experience, the loss of someone they loved. It might do her good to realize she's not alone.

It would be quite a gift for you to be willing to listen to her when she wants to talk, hand her hankies when she wants to cry, and just be there when she wants to remember. You'll be giving her a living example of what a loving relationship is all about.

Lastly, look for the gift in what this experience is teaching you. What does her dilemma, her pain, teach you. It seems to me that it's making you a better friend and that is where indeed she and you are blessed.

How do you offer condolences when years have past?

Hi Ann,

My husband's brother's wife had a baby boy three years ago who only lived about an hour. They were told by doctors 4 months into the pregnancy that it had an incurable illness and the baby would not live long. They elected to have no extreme measures taken to keep the baby alive. They live in Canada and we in the US southwest and it was financially impossible to be with them at the time of the funeral. However we sent condolences and a mass card (we're all Catholic). I had crocheted a baby blanket early on in the pregnancy and I sent it along too telling them it was made with love and they could use it however they felt best.

Since then the relationship had been cool and we were at a loss as to what happened. We recently found out that they are extremely hurt as we have neglected to honor the anniversary of the death for the past two years. Their words to my mother-in-law is they have felt "abandoned by us."

My husband has never been close to his brother however we phone monthly and send the living children birthday and Christmas gifts. I couldn't imagine calling them on the day of the anniversary of the death of the baby; my husband and I would be too uncomfortable. I don't even call my mother on the anniversary of my father's death -- it's just so hard for her and me.

What's appropriate in this situation? Does one send birthday cards for a deceased child? A "thinking of you" card? I thought they would KNOW we think of them often and feel for them although we can't imagine their pain. Help! 1

Dear D.,

Thank you for your honesty. I will reply in kind.

When I started writing about grief and being of comfort I knew there had to be a reason why intelligent, kind, well-mannered people could simply ignore their friends and family during this most difficult time. It was simple. They were more afraid of doing the wrong thing or of causing more pain to the bereaved than they were afraid of doing nothing. So they did nothing and hoped the problem would ďgo awayĒ or that the griever would ďjust knowĒ how they were feeling. It doesnít work that way. In fact, in my opinion, it causes much more harm than good. Thatís the main reason why I wrote my book. To tell friends and family, reach out, let yourself feel uncomfortable, risk causing pain so you will find the truth, which is that you are extending compassion, extending love, offering prayer, you are willing to be involved.

It was clear you and your husband are not close to your brother-in-law and his wife. Not only because you so state it but because you all, you and your family, your brother-in-law and his family, your mother-in-law and her family, all of you have allowed over three years to pass with ďcoolnessĒ between you, with grief and anger and fear unvoiced.

It does fall to you, mainly, to address this issue. Why? Because you are aware of it. Because you felt the distance first. Because you took action by asking about it with your mother-in-law and now with me. You cannot repair the past but you can change the present. You now know that your brother-in-law and his wife are hurt and feel abandoned. How do you address that? Three words; communication, compassion, forgiveness. Ask for these things and offer them.

I hope you recognize that the discomfort you feel talking about this issue, they feel too or they would have addressed it with you. Even when you use simple and direct language, this kind of loss, the loss of the future, is difficult to comprehend. There is no way they would know what youíre feeling. Ask them to forgive you for misunderstanding their coolness was a way of dealing with their hurt.

You might tell them of your own experience with grief, that you canít even call your mother to talk about your fatherís death because itís so hard on both of you. Perhaps your way, of not talking about it, is not theirs. It may be that this is what your mother has shown you as an example of grief. But everyone grieves in his or her own way and at his or her own pace. Perhaps they needed (and still need) to express their feelings and you, from their point of view, didnít want to listen or acknowledge them. Listen, listen, listen to what they have to say. If the going gets tough, gently let them know theyíve given you a lot to think about and you want to do that, think about what they have said. Regardless of what they say directly to you, you will have given them a great deal to think about too.

And as for appropriate, no, sending a birthday card to a deceased child is not appropriate. But sending a ďthinking of youĒ card is. It doesnít have to be on that exact date. But it does acknowledge that you remember and thatís what many people who grieve want to know, that the one they loved isnít lost to them forever, but is indeed remembered. Your brother-in-law and his wife havenít come to whatever terms their going to come to about this loss. And for now, sending a card can be a small but vital comfort.

I know this may be a difficult response to read. Thank you for trusting me with your thoughts and feelings. I hope for you and all your family that the best of your memories stay clearest in your heart and mind.

What should I do while my boss is grieving?

Dear Ann,

My boss' son just passed away unexpectedly. She hasn't been to work in the past week and is not sure when she'll return. I've been put in charge in her place and have been faced with some issues in which I'm not sure how to handle, such as disciplining employees. Sometimes she lets them off and other times she doesn't. Should I document the incidences and wait for her to get back and have her deal with the problem employees or handle them on my own and hope that's what she'd do? Also, how do I act or what do I say or talk about around her? I know she probably won't want to keep hearing condolences, but I also don't want to seem insensitive or uncaring. Please help! 1

Dear P.C.,

To lose a child, at any age, is so difficult. I think it is the loss of the hoped for future that can be devastating.

The first week following the death of someone one loves is the busiest. There are many details to handle, people to notify, arrangements to make, aside for attempting to cope emotionally.

Toward that end you should ask your boss about her preferences in some matters that effect her personally as well as the company. For example, who would she like to notify in the company and outside it such as clients, vendors, others with whom she deals on a regular basis? If she doesn't want you to notify anyone, respect her wishes of course. Again, with permission, you may also want to ask when a memorial service is planned and organize things at the office so those who would like to attend may do so

You need to pay attention to her cues as to appropriate times to express your condolences. You could organize a company card(s) and see they are delivered to her personally so she can open them when she feels up to it.

Your boss has put you in charge. When a person is in crisis they will turn to people they can trust. Trust your judgment. Be thoughtful and respectful. Ask for those qualities from the other employees. I do recommend that you document the issues and your decisions. Do your best. That's all that can be expected of you.

How can I comfort someone who won't talk about his grief?

Dear Ann,

My boyfriend's mother passed away 2 years ago, and he was deeply hurt by this. Yesterday was the 2 year anniversary, and he won't talk to me. He has avoided me for two days, didn't tell me that he took three days off from work, or that his uncle was coming down from California for the "event". He reluctantly told me of this anniversary - his fear of having to talk about his mother is so great that he kept all of this from me. He said that he hurts too much, and I can't get him to open up. I'm very worried about him, because I don't think that he ever let himself go through the grieving process properly. I think that what he is doing is very unhealthy. I think that he has a lot of anger inside of him, which is coming out in all sorts of different ways. How can I help him? What can I do to make him open up? I don't think that he would be open to go to a professional. 1

Dear V,

Everyone addresses the issue of grief in their own way and in their own time. Two years may seem like time enough to create distance for you, but it appears to still be fresh for him. There are issues you mention in your letter which may require the help of a professional counselor, specifically the anger and the fear. These are his issues. The fact that he has reached out to his uncle to help him deal with things is a positive thing.

You can't make anyone open up to you any more than you can make someone love you. You can create opportunities for him to feel more comfortable talking about it. If you yourself have faced the difficult experience of losing someone you loved, you could talk to him about your direct experience, "When my sister died, I felt this way or that way for such a long time. I felt better when I could talk to friends and family about it, which is why I suggest talking to you." If you don't have direct experience, then you may try opening the subject of your concern for him. "I know you found it difficult to talk to me about the death of your mother. It hurts my feelings to realize you want to stay separate from me. I want to honor your feelings but at the same time, I'm concerned about you. I don't like to see you in such pain. What can I do to help you through this?" Communication is key. Ask permission to ask questions about his mother. What was she like? Did she cook? What was his favorite meal? What kind of music did she like?

You might want to ask him if he would like to create a memorial to his mother. For example, there is an internet site which helps people build personal memorials and has a forum for people to share their feelings at My book, One More Star in Heaven Now, offers several other good sites and suggestions where you could get more information on the grieving process. Since you care and your caring is causing a problem for you, you'll want to get educated on what you can do to be of help. In addition to my book, I also recommend your local hospice organization. They have grief counseling groups.

It doesn't matter that two years have passed since his loss. Often there are people who have lost a loved one years ago who find comfort discussing the matter, not at first, but at last.

I hope this helps you both. Let me know how you do. You'll be in my thoughts and prayers.

How can a friend be so stupid?

Dear Ann,

My dog died. His name was Jasper. I've had him since I was little. My friend said not to worry, we could replace him. How could we just replace him? My friend is stupid. We can't replace Jasper. Maybe I could just replace my friend. 1

Dear Jeff,

Jasper sounds like he was really special, like maybe he was the best dog ever. I know you are sad that he is gone. And you're right. He can't be replaced.

But I don't think your friend was trying to be stupid. I think he was really trying to say something that would make you feel better. It just didn't come out that way. I'll bet he saw you were sad and he didn't want you to be sad so he said the first thing that came to his mind.

People do that all the time. No one really likes to see their friends in pain or hurt or upset. So they often say stuff without thinking.

Do you know what compassion means? It means to be kind or forgiving. It means you sometimes have to let someone be hurt if it will give them space to heal. Mostly people want you to get over being hurt so they say stuff like "I know how you feel. or you'll get over it soon. or you can get another dog." It's way harder to just sit by a friend who wants to cry and to let them. Because it's sometimes hard to listen to them cry.

Please try to show compassion to your friend. You already know more than he does. You know what it's like to have the best dog ever. And sometimes if you want to have a really good friend, you have to let them make mistakes and trust that they will learn from them. Your friend was smart enough to pick you, so maybe he isn't so stupid after all.

Does work have to come first?

Dear Ann,

A few days ago a really terrific person I worked with was killed by a drunk driver. "Sally" was dear to all of us in the department as well as a vital part of our team. We're all devastated. There is going to be a memorial service for her tomorrow at 2 p.m., followed by a gathering at her family home. We all want to go.

However, we have a big deadline the end of the week on a critical project in the office. The rumor is that we won't be allowed to take the time off. It's causing friction already. While I don't think our manager is a jerk, he sure will be seen as one if he doesn't let us go. Everyone is upset; some are ready to quit.

Do you have any suggestions? 1
--Sally's Friend

Dear Sally's Friend,

It's hard to make clear decisions when you are in pain or in fear. Balance is what you want to strive for: how to honor your friend and still keep your commitment to your work.

Since you don't know for a fact that you all cannot go and since you also say your manager isn't a jerk, let's look at a response that may be workable for everyone.

What if you assess how far along or behind you are in the project. If only your team is responsible for the work, will you meet the deadline? If not, what has to be done to accomplish that? Sally must have worked hard to make your project a success, as you say she was a vital part of the team. What would she have done to handle a crisis?

Maybe your department could get a bit more organized. Could half of you go to the memorial service and the other half go to the family home later? This would still leave the office covered. And if both groups carpool, not only would you be able to comfort each other under these trying circumstances, but you would also show your company that you are willing to be considerate of their needs. You don't owe a company your soul, but you do owe them your respect, and you should expect theirs in return.

Lastly I would ask you not to assume that your manager, or others not in your department, are unaffected by the death of Sally. We are all connected in a thousand seen and unseen ways. You never know when your smile, (or Sally's), or a kind word or a compromise will shift a person's day from stress to relief or even peace. Extend what you want to receive.

I would urge you to offer the compromise plan to your manager before you jump to conclusions. Your manager may even want to join you. I hope your department and all those who cared for Sally will remember her well and find comfort in sharing those memories.

What's the right thing to say?

"My assistant's mother died unexpectedly last week and, as the eldest daughter, she was responsible for making all the arrangements. Her family lives in the midwest; our company is in Boston. I did everything I could to expedite her time off and help her leave as soon as she found out. I called her once to express my condolences, but had to leave a message because she was out. She's due back next week, and I really need some suggestions on how I should treat her and what I should say.

The reality is we run a very tight ship and I really need her back working full time ASAP. On the other hand, I realize this will have been a pretty traumatic thing for her. The company allows 5 days of bereavement leave, which she's already used up. I'm will to be flexible, but at the same time the work is piling up. Any advice would be appreciated." 1

Dear P.L.,

First let me commend you on handling the matter with compassion and efficiency. Your response was right on target.

Balancing compassion against the required workload is often tricky. Your assessment is correct in thinking this will be traumatic for her and yes, you still have work you have to get done.

I suggest you continue as you have begun, by again assessing the situation on this employee's return. Some people need the comfort of their normal routine and use the time at work to work and distance themseleves from their emotions. You do want to be aware that for anyone grieving, especially someone you know to bear the burden of family responsibilty, whatever the company can do to be supportive can make a tremendous positive difference. Detailing your EAP or other counseling programs are a good step.

For others, it's a struggle to be at work. This is usually a temporary situation but can be met with impatience from the corporate point of view. You do need to get the work done.

Try to look at the situation as an opportunity rather than looking at the employee as a "lame duck". For example, can some of the everyday work be divided with others who may have lighter loads? Is there someone you are considering for a promotion who could now be "tested" by handling a part of the griever's workload? Does your department have a team attitude? Is this a chance to foster it? You get the idea.

Lastly, encourage other employees to extend the actions they would want to receive if they were under difficult circumstances. Perhaps handling office errands, opening a conference room when a bit of privacy is needed, be willing to listen, not ignoring the tears but offering some kleenex and a smile and admitting "I don't know what to say" when the moment feels awkward.

Remember people are at work to support their lives. When their lives are disrupted, that employee needs support. When the company responds to that employee with compassion and dignity, not only does that employee benefit but the whole company does. In a world that often sees employees as a wheel in a cog in a big machine, this very different point of view will earn loyalty and dedication. You are on the right track.

Loss of Innocence

It's 3:27 AM on Wednesday, September 12, 2001. I can't sleep.

The events of yesterday weigh heavily on my mind and spirit.

If you have ever doubted the idea that "we are all connected", you had only to look at the television, or your co-worker's face, or the look on the checkout person's face in the grocery store to see shock and confusion and grief. Perhaps as you looked out on a brilliant end-of-summer day, you saw a person pull their car to the side of the road and just cry. Perhaps you heard your local news try to keep you informed and make some sense of it. Perhaps you heard/saw young people across university campuses and in high schools say "I never thought it would happen here in America. I thought I was safe." Maybe you went to your church and found hundreds of people you had never seen before and moved over to make more room. Or maybe you were at the blood bank. Maybe you were just happy to be home with your family and this time you didn't notice the mess your house was or care that the kids were eating junk food or notice that they were playing the music much more softly than they usually do.

People will say a lot of things about yesterday. For me, it will mark the day America lost its innocence. Even the children recognize this isn't a safe place. And no amount of legislature will make it so. So what do we do?

When I wrote my book on comforting someone who is grieving, my nephew had asked me, " Why do people have to die?" I pondered that question for a long time.

People die so that change in life can occur. It's not about timing, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it's not about punishment, it's not bad luck.

For me, this time, like always, it's about change in life that needs to occur; radical change of thought about how we view our lives and our place in the world.

This cataclysmic event has brought us together to face evil and hardship unimaginable in "a time of peace".

I urge you to do what you do as part of your life to connect with your God, your family, your neighbors, your co-workers. Keep an eye on them. Generously extend kind words and hugs. Listen. Before you act in haste, listen some more.

Things are already in motion on the bigger scale. The emergency workers are in the area, doing their jobs. Send them thoughts of support and courage. Our warriors are already gathering information and moving in to their positions, theirs is not our job. Send them thoughts of support and courage. Business is reopening its doors, determined to supply its goods and services to us. Send them thoughts of support and courage. Children and young people are going back to school. Send them your thoughts of support and courage.

Be grateful for the bounty in your life. Pick up each piece and bless it and give thanks that you have it. As you do, those thoughts of gratitude and blessing will pour out of you and into the consciousness of all of us. If we collectively felt the blow of yesterday's attempt to break our spirit, do you not also see that we can feel the blessing of our own will to heal?

Where you feel afraid, light a candle and directly ask someone for help.

Where you feel your strength lies, whatever it may be, use it for a greater good as these days before us unfold.

Wherever you can, express your love.

I know there are issues of anger and outrage and demands for justice. They will each have their time. But if we can concentrate first on the healing, then perhaps we will have the clarity of thought required to know the best way to handle those issues and demands.

It's my personal belief that the soul carries the light of life in each person. When that person dies, they leave a bit of their light behind to guide us. It's placed in the sky so we can always look up, in the darkest night when we feel most alone, and see one more shining star. The sky was brilliant last night. Even as we grieve, the heavens themselves stand quietly with purpose that is eternal. The darkest night will still be pierced by the light of the stars, the light of those who have loved us and want us to know we are not abandoned or forgotten. If you lost someone yesterday, look up, and you will see there are more stars in heaven now.

If I may be of any assistance to you in this difficult time, please write to me here. Let me know if you want a confidential reply or if you think your question will help others and I will post my response here.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and those you love.

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