Survivor’s guilt is a term that’s used in traumatic situations. It describes the feelings of guilt felt by someone who survives a situation when others did not. Often it refers to a situation such as a car accident or suicide. The surviving individual struggles with feelings of guilt, either as to why they survived instead of their loved one, or why couldn’t they save them. Recently however, I was introduced to an expanded meaning of this term. Maryanne Pope, in her blogpost “Grief & Money” describes how some people struggle with the insurance money they may have received following the loss of their loved one, and feel like perhaps they didn’t deserve it.

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She describes how some people view the money as ‘blood money’, and feel the need, sometimes even subconsciously, to give it away, as fast as possible.

Her descriptions reminded me of some of the emotions I struggled with after my husband passed away. My situation was the opposite, however. We did not receive any insurance pay out, and money was tight. Instead, I felt guilty for everything we did have. How could I, the struggling widow, afford these ‘luxuries’? Often they were gifts from others, or financial gifts with

the command to not spend it on groceries, but to buy something for myself, or the kids, that we wouldn’t otherwise buy. I always spent wisely, and often ignored the provided instructions, and used it on groceries anyway.

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The holiday season is over. Kids are back at school, decorations are packed away (or getting there!) and eating habits are returning from holiday free-for-all to a semblance of healthfulness. For many people, it can be very anti-climactic after the excitement of the festive season. “Post-holiday slump” can feel grey and disappointing. For people who are grieving though, it might feel entirely different. January feels like the month when you can breathe again.

January is a time to breathe again
 (Photo by Pavel Lozovikov on Unsplash)

If you aren’t in mourning, you might be too busy to stop to realize that living through the holiday season is often extremely difficult for those who are in mourning—that the “most wonderful time of the year” doesn’t feel that way at all.  Someone living through a loss might be relieved to have the hubbub of the holidays finished for another year. If death has caused a hole in the fabric of your family, celebrations and family gatherings can feel like they are highlighting the fact that one of you is missing. The loss is keenly felt, even for those who have been bereaved for a long time.

Lisa, an individual who lost her mother in December several years ago finds Decembers to be tough and uses the post-holiday season to reflect and evaluate. She finds her breath by attempting to identify improvements from one year to the next. For instance, one year she found that she could think of twice she gathered enough joy to smile, whereas the year previous she hadn’t smiled at

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I don’t know what to say… A common thought after someone you know has lost a loved one. What are the right words, what should you say?

Just outside of Edmonton, AB in the town of Leduc, a workplace accident on November 15, 2018 led to the death of three workers. The tragedy was felt by many who work in similar industrial settings and many people mourned the men who lost their lives, even if they didn’t know them personally. For the families of the workers though, it is a personal tragedy. Cody Bondarchuk–the son of Daryn Bondarchuk, one of the men who died in the Leduc accident—took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the grieving process. What he shared was a touching and highly relatable thread he calls “Things They Don’t Tell You When Your Parent Dies Suddenly, a Thread”  (https://twitter.com/codybondarchuk/status/1063595402073522176). I would encourage you to read it if you feel able, but know it may stir up a lot of emotions. It is raw and moving and truthful.

Two of his points though are particularly relevant when it comes to looking for the right things to say. In an interview for Global, (https://globalnews.ca/news/4688799/leduc-workplace-death-son-grief-essay/) Karen Bartko reports Cody’s words:

“It’s just been such a strange blur,” he said. “All the clichés that people say when someone passes — I always just rolled my eyes at them, but now, I really believe them.”  

A grieving person may feel like they are in a movie or a nightmare. The shock may make

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Have you been wearing a poppy? Lots of people in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK pin a poppy over their hearts in the weeks before Remembrance Day, do you?  This tradition stems from the poem In Flanders Fields with its imagery of poppies blowing between the tombstone crosses in a World War I graveyard. What’s your reason for wearing a poppy? Maybe you want to support the work of the Legion with your donation (or donations in my case, as I usually buy and lose about four every year). Or you might have served in the armed forces or have a loved one who did, and you want to acknowledge their contributionarmed-forces-army-macro-40546, and the sacrifice of people who died in war. Poppies are a community symbol of mourning. You may not personally know a soldier who lost their life in war, but we feel moved to mark the loss with the symbol pinned to our lapels. Mourning symbols, (like arm bands and black ribbons) work in a similar way. They give us the opportunity to publicly declare our loss. “Someone I care about has died” they say, even when you don’t have the words. A poppy in November denotes something specific: Remembrance. It links you to other people wearing a poppy in a shared emotion. A mourning symbol also denotes something specific: grief. It allows others to see that you are in mourning. That the things you do, even the mundane things like grocery shopping, are tinged with grief. The mourning symbol Mourning-Pinyou wear can link you to others who have experienced grief and arouse compassion in people who encounter you in your mourning—crying in the produce aisle, or screaming in traffic,

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Are you ready for Halloween? In Canada and the US, we celebrate the occasion with costumes and candy, haunted houses and scary movies. You might be wondering what is has to do with mourning or remembrance-it’s a silly fun holiday for kids. But it isn’t celebrated in the same way everywhere. The word Halloween comes from a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, and in many cultures the focus is on honouring people who have died. Hallows is an archaic name for saints, and the day following All Hallows’ Eve is All Saints Day. The day is reserved in some Christian denominations to remember those who have died, with church services and with special prayers of remembrance. Although it is sombre, it is a comforting time to share your grief with those who have also experienced loss. Like I said, not too much to do with pillowcases full of candy! Many countries and cultures have holidays and festivals to commemorate family and friends who have died. In the Philippines, families gather for Undas, travelling home to celebrate together. undas They visit the graves of family members to clean and repaint the tomb or mausoleum, eat together, and light candles and pray.  In Sweden, most shops and businesses are closed on All Saints’ Day, and people spend time with their families. Candles are lit and placed on gravestones of loved ones, and many churches will have services and host concerts. The Day of the Dead festivals in some parts of Mexico are probably the best known. Sugar skulls ornately decorated skeleton figurines, and bright yellow marigolds are part of the colourful celebrations, where special meals are eaten with family, graves are visited, and altars are constructed with offerings of things that were meaningful to the person

Grieving Together
“Some people, they can't just move on, you know, mourn and cry and be done with it. Or at least seem to be. But for me... I don't know. I didn't want to fix it, to forget. It wasn't something that was broken. It's just...something that happened. And like that hole, I'm just finding ways, every day, of working around it. Respecting and remembering and getting on at the same time. ”
Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever
“I felt like a mouse running through one of those cardboard mazes. I didn't have to think about anything I did. My body just...went. The difference was that, unlike the mouse, there was no hunk of cheese waiting for me at the end. No reward of any kind for making it through. In fact, there was no end at all.”
Alicia K. Leppert, Emerald City
“It’s odd, isn't it? People die every day and the world goes on like nothing happened. But when it’s a person you love, you think everyone should stop and take notice. That they ought to cry and light candles and tell you that you're not alone.”
Kristina McMorris, Letters From Home
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