Love & Loss
In Celebration of Black History Month, here is a poem written by Langston Hughes (1902-1967). Enjoy this beautiful poem, and post your comments below.
Night Funeral In Harlem by Langston Hughes
Where did they get
Them two fine cars?
Insurance man, he did not pay–
His insurance lapsed the other day–
Yet they got a satin box
for his head to lay.
Who was it sent
That wreath of flowers?
Them flowers came
from that poor boy’s friends–
They’ll want flowers, too,
When they meet their ends.
Who preached that
Black boy to his grave?
Old preacher man
Preached that boy away–
Charged Five Dollars
His girl friend had to pay.
When it was all over
And the lid shut on his head
and the organ had done played
and the last prayers been said
and six pallbearers
Carried him out for dead
And off down Lenox Avenue
That long black hearse done sped,
The street light
At his corner
Shined just like a tear–
That boy that they was mournin’
Was so dear, so dear
To them folks that brought the flowers,
To that girl who paid the preacher man–
It was all their tears that made
That poor boy’s Funeral grand.
Ben Stein, former comedian and now political analyst on a multitude of shows taped this Valentine tribute to his wife for the CBS Sunday Morning Show. Although it is dated 2008, the message of love and loss, and living life without a loved one is timeless. He reminds us that although our love for one another is forever, our time on this earth is not.
I have a question for you. Does the cause of death matter when dealing with your client families? Or do you treat them all the same? I started thinking about this after the recent loss of a family friend in a house explosion. Did I talk to the family and respond differently because of the way he died? I did. First, because of his age, he was 20 years old, and second because of the manner in which he died. I teach about sudden and tragic loss in my Death & Dying course, but thankfully I rarely have the opportunity to put it to use.
Here’s a few thinks I reminded myself that may be helpful to you as you serve those who have had a sudden and tragic loss.
1. Shock makes people speak very slowly, so be patient. Don’t finish the person’s sentence for them even though you think you know what they are going to say. Instead, let them complete their thought in full.
2. Don’t ask for details. When someone dies of cancer we know why they died. But when someone dies in an accident we want details. What happened? What went wrong? How did this happen? What are the police saying happened? On and on it goes. The grieving person will tell you what they want you to know, don’t be nosey. Unless you need details for the type of service you are providing it’s none of your business (or mine).
3. Speak softly. I have often talked with grieving people and can’t hear them. I have to really concentrate on what they are saying. I tend to talk loud (O.K., I don’t tend to, I talk really loud), so I remind myself to keep my volume at the level they are speaking to me at.
4. Don’t force yourself in the situation. If you have a service you can provide then by all means offer it, but don’t be pushy. Everyone is jumping to help when a tragedy occurs, but taking control isn’t necessary helpful. It can actually alienate you from the situation and the people you want to help.
5. Connect the dots. Often you will get just bits and pieces of information at a time and later have to put them altogether. Be careful doing this, making sure that the information is correct.
6.Be wary of the media. Don’t repeat what you are reading in the media. It may or may not be accurate, or give the entire picture of what happened.
7. Don’t make judgments about the event. Within hours of the house explosion mentioned above there were rumors of a meth lab as the cause all over the internet. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, these were good kids that died in the house fire; it truly was a tragic accident. BUT, had it been something else it wouldn’t have changed the fact that the families still needed help and compassion.
Here’s an additional website that I found on this topic with great information about how people dealing with sudden and tragic loss may be feeling including a feeling of helplessness, a sense of meaning, and blaming ourselves or others.
We’ve been reviewing a series of brochures that are provided by the government on end of life issues. As Memorial Day has just passed it is timely to review the requirements to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
First here are some interesting facts about Arlington:
• Almost 4 million people visit annually.
• It is not the largest National Cemetery, just the most famous. (The largest is Calverton in NY.)
• There are more than 290,000 veterans and their dependents buried on 624 acres of land.
• There are veterans buried at Arlington representing every war the United States has fought.
• The other 129 National Cemeteries are run by the Department of Veterans Affairs; Arlington however is administered by the Department of the Army.
• At the current rate of approximately 27 funerals daily, M-F, the cemetery should be able to accommodate ground burials up to the year 2060.
So, who can be buried at Arlington?
• Any active duty member of the Armed Forces (except those members serving on active duty for training only).
• Any veteran who is retired from active military service with the Armed Forces.
• Any veteran who is retired from the Reserves is eligible upon reaching age 60 and drawing retired pay; and who served a period of active duty (other than for training).
• Any former member of the Armed Forces separated honorably prior to October 1, 1949 for medical reasons and who was rated at 30% or greater disabled effective on the day of discharge.
• Any former member of the Armed Forces who has been awarded one of the following decorations:
‣ Medal of Honor
‣ Distinguished Service Cross (Navy Cross or Air Force Cross)
‣ Distinguished Service Medal
‣ Silver Star
‣ Purple Heart
• The President of the United States or any former President of the United States.
Any former member of the Armed Forces who served on active duty (other than for training) and who held any of the following positions:
‣ An elective office of the U.S. Government
‣ Office of the Chief Justice of the United States or of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
‣ An office listed, at the time the person held the position, in 5 USC 5312 or 5313 (Levels I and II of the Executive Schedule).
‣ The chief of a mission who was at any time during his/her tenure classified in Class I under the provisions of Section 411, Act of 13 August 1946, 60 Stat. 1002, as amended (22 USC 866) or as listed in State Department memorandum dated March 21, 1988.
• Any former prisoner of war who, while a prisoner of war, served honorably in the active military, naval, or air service, whose last period of military, naval or air service terminated honorably and who died on or after November 30, 1993.
• The spouse, widow or widower, minor child, or permanently dependent child, and certain unmarried adult children of any of the above eligible veterans.
The widow or widower of:
‣ a member of the Armed Forces who was lost or buried at sea or officially determined to be missing in action.
‣ a member of the Armed Forces who is interred in a US military cemetery overseas that is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission.
‣ a member of the Armed Forces who is interred in Arlington National Cemetery as part of a group burial.
• The surviving spouse, minor child, or permanently dependent child of any person already buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
• The parents of a minor child, or permanently dependent child whose remains, based on the eligibility of a parent, are already buried in ANC. A spouse divorced from the primary eligible, or widowed and remarried, is not eligible for interment.
• Provided certain conditions are met, a former member of the Armed Forces may be buried in the same grave with a close relative who is already buried and is the primary eligible.
This brochure is full of helpful information and answers questions I wouldn’t have even thought to ask. It is 30 pages long, and professionally published. However, the same information is available on-line at www.arlingtoncemetery.org as well. Just click on “Funeral Information.”
In the last few weeks, the media has been a buzz remembering Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin.
Although most of us haven’t had the distinction of serving such high profile families after their loss, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from a Princess, a Woman of Faith, and a Wildlife Conservationist.
So young at their mother’s death one can only imagine that Princes William and Harry were just going through the motions and following instruction during Princess Diana’s funeral and burial. Now, all grown up, how appropriate that they would organize a tribute to their Mother that would bring new meaning to them. Children experiencing loss can only process what they can cognitively understand. A child’s grief takes so long to process since, as they age, they learn and understand new information, and have to decide what to do with that information.
As I watched Princess Diana’s funeral 10 years ago, I just ached for those young boys whose mother had died, and how their lives had changed forever. As I watched the memorial service marking the 10 year anniversary of Diana’s death, I marveled at how well adjusted, well spoken, and at peace the Princes seemed to be.
Their lesson is that time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it does allow us to see how processing has occurred and life can be carried on. Follow up is so important to those working with children after a death, not only for them, but for us. How wonderful to know a child you served years ago is now well adjusted, well spoke, and at peace. Don’t hesitate to follow up.
Mother Teresa and her newly revealed struggle with her faith through her writings some years ago have brought some controversy. However, I think the lesson to be learned from her is that people who struggle with their faith through loss are simply -- normal. After a loss, one’s faith is usually strengthened or weakened, but it rarely remains the same. As we serve those who are grieving we should be mindful and non-judgmental about their possible struggle with their faith. Unfortunately struggle with faith usually includes anger, which is sometimes directed at the person who is serving the bereaved.
Steve Irwin’s small daughter has carried on her Dad’s work with the wild creatures of the world. The lesson from that family, a father shared and passed along his passion to his daughter in the few short years they had together. It’s not unusual for an adult child to carry on Mom or Dad’s business, but an elementary aged child who was given her Dad’s passion for life -- what a gift to her. Remember the gift of passion as you serve those experiencing loss, and make sure you are sharing your passion with others too.
These three people couldn’t have been more different in their lives, and yet each of them has a lesson for us to learn from their deaths, if we choose to.