By Richard Quodomine
Starting on sundown, July 26th, some Jews will begin to fast. Unlike the more well-known Yom Kippur, which is for atonement, Tisha B’Av is a specific holiday for mourning and grief. Its exact date varies with the ancient Jewish lunar Calendar, but is sometime in July or early August. All Jewish commemorations begin in the evening due to this lunar calendar.
Observant Jews will abstain from sexual relations, all forms of frivolity, wearing of leather, and work on this day. Just before the evening that begins the holiday, a “separation meal,” called seudah hamafseket,is eaten.It consists of bread and a hard-boiled egg dipped in ashes, accompanied by water. Talk about a meal to remind one of sadness. Once the evening of Tisha B’Av commences, one fasts for a full 24 hours. Please note that life and health are more important than fasting in Jewish tradition. If a doctor says a person should not fast, such as a woman who is pregnant, then fasting is forbidden.
Those of us of the Jewish faith also ascribe several sad events as having happened on the day of Tisha B’Av. For example, it is traditionally believed that both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on Tisha B’Av. In more recent history, the last Jews of Spain whom did not convert to Catholicism were said to have left Spain forever on Tisha B’Av. Spanish Judaism had been a critical component of the Islamic culture there and was part of its unique pluralism and beauty. Some of those events may not have happened “on that day” exactly. The point of the holiday is not to take dates literally, but rather to remind ourselves that grief is a life cycle event, and we all grieve at some time.
Further, there is grief over loss of life but also grief for losing ways of living, of culture, of beauty or perhaps our environment and our friends who are not well treated by society. Tisha B’Av is a Jewish holiday, but it is also a holiday that is universal. No, we shouldn’t all fast or refuse to wear leather. But we should recognize that mourning is important. Feeling loss and grief is a part of whom we are. In facing that loss and accepting that grief – along with emotions such as anger, sadness or resentment – we are able to process them. We’re able to find a part of ourselves. For example, when dealing with a person who has passed, the grief we bear is knowing that we must carry that which we have lost because the person who carried them with us can no longer do it. We must grieve, and then bring about again the joy that that person created. The prayer for the holiday concludes with the verse “Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.” In accepting grief, we can be restored to joy.
By Jessica Milette, MSW, RSW
When death knocks on the door of a community, each of us are impacted. Sometimes a death will touch many lives across a community, whether people knew the deceased personally or not. We may grieve the death of a family member, friend, or acquaintance, a well-known community member, or someone we are linked to by age, location, circumstances, etc. Community grief can feel overwhelming – we must tend to our own grief, but others in our life are grieving and hurting too. Each person in a community will grieve differently depending on their relationship to the person who has died, their own prior experiences of loss, and the unique coping strategies they rely on in grief.
Developed by psychologist Susan Silk and Barry Goldman following Susan’s experience with a health crisis and her diagnosis with breast cancer, Ring Theory helps us learn how to support others and ourselves when a community death occurs.
Like a ripple on water when we drop a pebble into it, imagine a series of concentric circles. Those directly impacted by the crisis or death are in the innermost ring, with each outer ring consisting of those further removed from the crisis or death. Generally the immediate family, or those who lived with the deceased,are in the innermost ring, with close friends and other family in the next ring, co-workers and acquaintances in the next ring, and those in our greater community in the outer rings.
When someone experiences a death, those in outer rings pour comfort in, while those in inner rings are allowed to “dump” their thoughts or feelings out. When someone in an inner ring is dumping out their feelings, those in outer rings can show up with acceptance and care, listening and validating the person’s experiences.
Pouring comfort in can also be the offer of specific, practical help. This approach seeks the griever’s consent to accept specific support and comfort, it lets the griever say yes or no to the offer, and can confirm what kinds of support are most helpful to them. It’s important to offer support on the griever’s terms.
When a community faces loss, many who are impacted want to share their feelings about the loss. Susan recalled during her cancer treatment how some folks she did not have very close relationships with in her community would show up unannounced, forcing her to accept support, or people would talk about their own feelings about her diagnosis. Dumping feelings onto someone in an inner circle is not helpful. It can leave those experiencing the loss most personally as if their loss is unacknowledged. When we know which ring we sit in after a death, we can connect to our own outer rings anytime we need to tend to our feelings of grief. If we find ourselves thinking about reaching out for support from someone who is in an inner circle compared to our relationship to the deceased, we should take a step back. Is there someone else that may be located in the same ring as us, or someone in a ring outside of us that we can reach out to instead? Sometimes actually drawing out the rings of folks in our own life impacted by a death can clarify where we need to support others, and who we can connect with for our own support.
Whether supporting others, or seeking support ourselves, a helpful phrase may be “Would you like to be heard, helped, or hugged?” Being heard means receiving supportive listening and validation. Being helped may mean brainstorming and collaborative problem-solving, or providing specific practical help with tasks. Sometimes there are no words or help we can offer, but, if welcome, our steady presence and a comforting hug can communicate our support.
Each person in a community will be impacted differently by a community death. It’s important to remember this theory about who we need to pour comfort into, and who we ourselves can dump out to as we navigate a community loss.
Articles Reviewed for Blog Post:
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-xpm-2013-apr-07-la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407-story.html (actual article in LA Times first written by Susan Silk – first link is PDF version of same article)
By Richard D. Quodomine
When you lose a person in the generation before you, you begin to think about what they meant to you. When you lose a parent, you think about all they meant, and you hoped you either lived up to the best of yourself, or in some cases where the parenting was not as instructive or kind, you hope you’ve raised yourself beyond difficult circumstances. If you’re fortunate, Dad pushes every endeavor and delights in your successes and constructively scolds you when you fail without ever making you feel embarrassed or willfully stupid – unless of course, you were actually willfully stupid.
Did we have our differences? Absolutely. My father was more conservative than I am politically, though he rejected hateful politics and would not vote for it. We come from a mixed religious family, and my father was Christian, I am Jewish. We had philosophical differences and we approached life differently. But we also valued accomplishment, kindness for its own sake, and service in the public good. He is part of the reason I have chosen a career in civil service. I believe government can and should serve at the behest of its citizenry, and while he mistrusted government intrinsically, he had respect for my approach in working for it.
As part of my research in the public interest, I went to India for a conference. While en route, somewhere between Zurich and Delhi, my Dad suddenly passed from a cardiac arrest. I couldn’t return home for several days, so I soldiered on without telling anyone at the conference. I figured the way to honor his memory was to do my very best. He was gone – and weeping in my hotel room wasn’t what he would have wanted.
Dad had a heart condition, but he had had corrective surgery and was otherwise in outstanding physical shape for his age. He was my Mom’s primary caregiver. This was especially tragic because she has dementia. Sometimes, I get angry that Dad is gone because the burden is much greater on myself and my family. Sometimes, I am so grateful that he gave me the strength to help care for Mom. Most of the time, even months removed, I’m just missing talking to my Dad.
The first father’s day without Dad is the hardest, or so “they say.” I think that is true, but it’s harder not because I am sad, but because there’s nothing that can replace all that he was. It’s trite to say “he lives in me.” I think it’s better to say “I take what he has given me, and I will grow and make this life my own.” I don’t think anyone should strive to be “just like” their parent. They should strive to be their own authentic selves, using the best of their parent as the cornerstone, not the ceiling. In Judaism, we say “May their memory be for a blessing” as a condolence. Dad’s memory is, for certain, a blessing.
By David Newland
The following blog post is a reworking of a post originally written in 2005 under the same name on his website.
This spring, I turned fifty-four. I have now outlived the father I never knew: my biological father. It’s been almost twenty-three years since we spoke; eighteen years since I learned of his death. I’m still dealing with the strange grief of his loss.
As an adoptee, I always had questions about my origins that my loving, caring adoptive parents couldn’t answer. In my twenties, I applied to Child Services for more information, and after eight years of waiting on my part, they did a search in 2000. After some effort, they couldn’t find my birth-mother, but quickly produced contact info for my biological father. They offered to put us in touch.
After jumping through a few official hoops, we emailed back and forth a bit, and finally, we spoke on the phone, maybe three times in all.
I can’t even describe what that was like – intense, starkly honest, humorous and deep. Here was a man who had made most of the same mistakes I had, only far worse. Depression, drugs, divorce. Family problems. Anger management. Women. He hid nothing, as far as I could tell, although his stories sometimes conflicted.
I didn’t hold anything back either. I insisted that he honour my experience as an adoptee. It wasn’t easy for me, handling the big hole in my life. He had a hard time understanding that. He said his own kids had it a lot worse than me. He was right, but that wasn’t for him to say. I heard it from them.
It was good to connect, but I knew he wasn’t good for me. I chose not to pursue further connection. I knew he was out there. He knew where I was.
There was no contact for a few years. And then one day, in January of 2005, I found out he was dead. I was online at work, looking for some information on the original (Polish) spelling of his last name, and wham! the first thing that came up was a memorial page. He had died, nearly a year before, in March 2004, aged 54.
I never knew him in life. I still don’t know him in death. But I’ve been grieving him for a long time, in my way.
In 2016, still reckoning with the hole he left, I went to Red Deer to find his grave. I narrated that journey in a CBC radio documentary, The heartache and healing of finding my birth father. I never found a grave: only my own shadow over a four-by-four stake in the ground. I did enjoy a delicious steak sandwich at a local hotel restaurant he was fond of.
I’ve been back to Red Deer twice since then. The last time I went, even the stake was gone. And so was the steak sandwich, restaurant, hotel and all.
The picture on the memorial page linked above is the only likeness I ever saw of my birth-father. I always thought I saw my face in his. Now, having reached his age, I see his face in mine.
By Jessica Milette, MSW, RSW
The signs of spring start to show up: the bird calls, sleepy daffodils and tulips waking up from their slumber, the trees beginning to bud ready to shade us with their leaves all season. And then, the flood of Mother’s Day emails start crashing into our inboxes.
Mother’s day is a holiday where we show appreciation and care for the maternal roles in our lives. However, this holiday can feel very overwhelming for those of us who are grieving the death of a mother figure, a mother grieving their child, or those of us grieving the loss of not being able to become mothers ourselves. The ads, commercials, and displays at the store, designed to be appealing and inviting become a painful grief trigger as we go about our day, our minds and hearts going to the person we’re grieving who isn’t alive to receive their flowers or gifts. Feeling as if our grief is heightened on holidays or times of celebration is a natural reaction to have. Often around these times of the year we gather with our loved ones, and our special person’s absence feels amplified.
Over the years, my grief reactions around mother’s day continue to change. At first, it was like a black looming cloud and I would avoid anything to do with Mother’s Day. Over time, I still have had hard Mother’s Days but the day looks much different. I may write to my mother, choose to ignore the day and do things unrelated to Mother’s Day, make a comforting meal from my childhood, or participate in a memorial event on Mother’s Day. Regardless of what I choose to do, or not do on Mother’s Day I make sure to give myself the space and compassion to rest and recover – grief can be exhausting.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, nor how to go through Mother’s Day. Our relationship as mothers and children is unique, so too will be our grief. The following ideas may be how you’d like to take time to honour the person you’re remembering and grieving on Mother’s Day:
-Unsubscribing from Mother’s Day emails (some companies have a special opt-out message for folks to unsubscribe from these types of emails)
– Ignoring Mother’s Day altogether and doing something that fills you up (it could be going to a movie your person may have never wanted to go to or taking a long hike)
– Creating an altar with photos, keepsakes, and favourite things of your person
– Lighting a candle in their honour
– Writing them a card, updating them on your life and reflecting on your relationship
– Creating a new tradition or ritual to replace Mother’s Day
– Packing your day with connection and activities with trusted others who support you in your grief
– Having a day of nothing: allowing yourself to do what your heart is telling you (a bath, a nap, a cry)
Sometimes our grief may feel heaviest in anticipation of Mother’s Day or on Mother’s Day itself. As we enter May and Mother’s Day approaches, I wish for you to be compassionate towards yourself and move through the day in the way that fits your heart and relationship best.
By Jessica Milette, MSW, RSW
A parent sits across from me, anxiously wringing their hands. They will be returning to work after the sudden death of their child. “What if they ask? Do I tell them that they died of an overdose?” Terror flashes across their face. “What if they judge me? My child? What if they think I’m a terrible parent?” We take a moment to reflect on their child and I ask them to tell me about them. They pause, but then I notice their hands aren’t as tense as they cross them over their shoulders. “They were so thoughtful and gave the best hugs. Their smile would light up any room.”
Sister, father, son, niece, best friend – some of these words might be how you would describe your loved one who has died of an overdose or drug poisoning. People Who Use Drugs (PWUD) are not defined by their substance use – they are a million other things to those who love and miss them dearly. Drug poisoning and overdose deaths are stigmatized in our society. The focus is on how the person died, not who they are. Society still holds onto old notions and beliefs about drugs which come with a value judgment about people who use drugs, which further contributes to stigma. Not everyone who uses drugs is an addict and not all drug use is inherently problematic. People who use drugs deserve dignity and respect when we are remembering and honouring those who have died by overdose or drug poisoning.
More stigma means less support for people using drugs and those that support them. Much work has been done and continues to be done to dispel myths and stigma about addiction, drug use, and those who use drugs. Addiction is an illness: something that someone lives with, not something that defines them. These same values and judgments society has about drug use aren’t attached to folks who die of other illnesses. Society tends to view drug use and those who use them as a black and white issue. However, those who love someone who uses drugs weave a rich, colourful tapestry made of stories, reminders, and feelings about their loved one.
In my years as a grief therapist, those left behind want to share a special moment or memory about their loved one with a trusted other. When one is grieving a drug-poisoning death, this trust and sacredness without judgment offers the freedom to sit in the entirety of their grief—the grief they felt when their loved one was alive and when they died. Taking the time to use a loved one’s name in conversation, and asking the griever to share something about their loved one is a powerful tool for us on our grief journey. By initiating these types of conversations, we let the griever know that if they wish to, they can talk about their loved one. Sharing our stories are some of the most powerful ways one finds connection and healing through grief. It helps us feel less alone in our grief by sharing about what makes our person special. Those we love and grieve aren’t just a person who uses drugs – they are so much more. May each of us continue to share stories about our loved ones and the many facets their lives hold.
*DISCLAIMER* The scenario described in the article is a general reflection upon themes the author has witnessed through their grief counselling work and does not represent a specific individual in order to protect the confidentiality of service users.
Nicole – Using Art and Creativity to Express Grief
Nicole discusses the work she does to allow access to creative outlets such as art hives and gardening.
Nicole – Pandemic’s Effect on Safe Spaces and Mental Health Access
Nicole discusses how the pandemic affected access to safe spaces and shelters for those living rough and living with addiction.
Nicole – Pandemic Leads to Increase in Drug Poisoning
Nicole discusses the increase in drug poisonings during the pandemic due to a number of factors.
Nicole – Advice for Other Professionals Managing Grief
Nicole discusses dealing with repeated loss while working in community outreach, not being afraid to be human.
Nicole – Grieving as a community
Nicole discusses the power of grieving together as a community. Finding connection and trust.
The Saint Elizabeth Foundation offers a project called the Reflection Room – a space for thinking and talking about dying, death, and grief.
The Reflection Room project is an evidence-based participatory art installation that was developed by researchers at the SE Research Centre and Memorial University in 2016. The project included a research component that evaluated the impact of Reflection Rooms as the project adapted over time to address changing needs.
The Reflection Room project was first developed to support people in community and healthcare settings to move from death-denying to death-discussing. From the first installation, the Reflection Room project has gone through three Phases of adaptation and continues to evolve.
Common elements across Reflection Rooms, whether they are set up to include an entire room, hallway, or corner of a room, include a quiet, calming space that invites visitors to read other people’s stories and post their own. The rooms are unstructured and unfacilitated, allowing visitors to engage with the space however they wish.
Over a five-year period from 2016-2020, the Reflection Room project was installed in 62 places across Canada, including in conferences, art galleries, hospices, and hospitals (Phases 1 and 2). Over a thousand stories were shared by individuals during their visits to these various Reflection Rooms. Results from the study from this period showed that storytelling can be an important part of grieving.
In 2020, Phase 3 of its adaptation and evaluation began with the SE Research Centre being asked to expand the reach of the Reflection Room to long-term care home communities in Ontario to respond to some of the accumulated pandemic-related grief in those communities. With the support of the Saint Elizabeth Foundation, Ontario Health Central, Family Councils Ontario, Ontario Centres for Learning, Research and Innovation in Long-Term Care, and Ontario Association of Residents’ Councils, over 50 homes signed up to host a Reflection Room®. In order to adapt to the environment of long-term care homes, an easy-to-set-up ‘kit’ incorporating instructions and materials (e.g., Reflection Cards, a red curtain to display Reflection Cards, candles, etc.) was developed and sent to homes free of cost. Overwhelmingly positive feedback has demonstrated that the Rooms support communities to work through grief by having a quiet space to rest and reflect, disclose emotions, process thoughts, and feel connected to others through sharing stories. The project often is complementary to other existing initiatives in long-term care homes such as palliative care committees and spiritual programs.
A collection of the stories shared over the course of the project is available to view on the Reflection Room website.
If you want to learn more about the project, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and listen to the Grief Stories podcast episode 64.
Neeliya Paripooranam, MSc, is a Project and Communications Manager at the SE Research Centre, overseeing the Reflection Room® project. Celina Carter, RN PhD, is a Senior Research Associate at the SE Research Centre. Paul Holyoke, PhD, is the Vice President, Research and Innovation at SE Health. Justine Giosa, PhD, is the Scientific Director, SE Research Centre and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo. Hana Irving, MA, is the Director, Philanthropic Programs for the Saint Elizabeth Foundation.