positive reflections on loss and grief

Positive reflections on loss and grief

Morning! Just wanted to share with you the Instagram account of my wondering friend and acclaimed Author and Grief Therapist Claire Bidwell Smith. Every Sunday morning (USA time) she is sharing a post and asking for reflection about grief. If you have lost a loved one and would like to share your positive experiences about the loss, then today’s post is for you.

positive reflections on loss and grief

Find her on Instagram here. 

Here’s what I wrote to Claire.

At a purely selfish level, if I hadn’t lost dad, I wouldn’t have read your books and found you 🙂 I think that loss makes you much more aware of the destructive power of fear. My fear lead to pretty foul anxiety attacks, which lead me to understanding the use of essential oils, which lead to my current business. Loss also lead me to continue writing to process my emotions, at a time when photography (my usual way of expressing emotions) was not possible. My constant writing has lead to my son’s loving the craft of writing naturally, and they are amazingly talented- so much more than myself. I think that loss shows you that you can survive, even if you don’t want to know what life would be like without them. It forces you to redefine what is important to you in life. It has made me stick up for my mother and myself in situations where I would have otherwise accepted less than perfect treatment and I am now passionate about palliative care, something that I would have never considered in the past.

Lifestyle: #Talktome about pets when they die

What happens when your pets die?

These and other questions were asked by me today, when Hamish interviewed me about my childhood pets. We were invited by HuffPost to join the #talktome initiative, which is designed to spark meaningful conversations between parents and children. Talking to my sons, we decided on two topics; my youngest son was going to ask me about Pugs (his obsession) and about the pets that I have had over the years. My eldest son was going to talk about Harry Potter and reading.

To read the article and watch the video on Huffington Post, click here.

talktome about pets

Good Grief.

good grief


I spend a lot of time helping people cope with grief as a result of death.  Grief is seen as the nasty stuff that accompanies the loss that no one wants; the death of a loved one.

But have you ever thought about good grief? This is the grief that accompanies happy changes in life; like your child graduating from school, or moving to a new job.

Rob Bell introduces the concept in a recent RobCast (episode 24- available on iTunes). I was introduced thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert who interviewed him in a recent Magic Lesson’s podcast.

I am empowered by the concept of good grief. It simply says, that the reason that we feel resistant to change, even happy change, is that we have, if we really take the time to investigate, a sense of loss. So in the case of good change- like your child moving to high school instead of primary school, the loss you feel is real. It’s just not really spoken about. You’ve spent seven years getting to know the school, the teachers, and you’ve developed friends.

But you’re excited that your child is moving on in life and happy about the new adventures that they will have in high school. So why the tears at graduation? It’s your body’s way of reminding you that you feel attached to the school, and the way of life that you have been accustomed to. When you actually acknowledge this, and take the time to grieve (appropriate to the circumstances), then you can move forward with relish.

The same concept can be applied to your new job. Look back at the great times you had, the results you accomplished, the new colleagues you met, and shared both the good times and bad times with. Take a moment to really savour it. Feel the joy, and the sadness. Then exhale deeply.

The future is ahead of you and it’s exciting!



Grief Altar

Talking to children about death

This Saturday is ‘Dying to Know Day’, organised by The Groundswell Project which aims to promote resilience and wellbeing in response to end of life issues and to encourage people to build their death literacy.

As I am passionate about exactly this, I decided to take the opportunity to share with you some ways that you can help children cope with their grief by understanding death. I have practical experience in this area, and what is written below is the result of my learnings in helping my children come to terms with the death of their Pa, and also as a result of the advice that friends have been seeking when confronted with the loss of their own parents or grandparents.

I hope that you find some help in the information below.

Talking about death always feels uncomfortable only because we’re not used to it. It’s something that we hope we will never have to do, despite the fact that we know it is inevitable. The best thing you can do for your children it to be open and honest about your understanding of death. Tell them what you believe and know for certain, but also let them know what you are not sure about.  The most important thing to communicate to them is that yes death is sad, but it is a natural part of life. Everything in the world is born and then dies.

Importantly, acknowledge their sadness and don’t try to stop them from expressing their grief. We all deal with things differently.

Depending upon the age of your children you might like to do the following:

  • Read them a picture book about that touches on the topic of loss and grief. Ask you local bookstore owner or librarian for recommendations. Here’s an example of a book which is great in helping understand why grandparents die.

Click on the picture of the books to be taken to Amazon.com. Purchasing through this link may result in a small affiliate payment, however, I would recommend these books irrespective of my affiliate association.

This is a practical workbook which children can use to remember their loved one.

Although typically used for separation anxiety in relation to divorce, or starting school, the same concept is applicable to the separation anxiety that children feel when someone dies.

  • Create a shrine for the loved one who you have lost. This does not have to be religious, however, can incorporate religions icons if this is helpful and meaningful to your child. I have a photograph of my father and it is surrounded by tea light candles and incense burners. The children have added their collection of precious rocks and crystals to it. We light the candles and incense each night.

Grief Altar

  • Be open with your grief. Cry in front of them because it lets them see that expressing emotion is a natural and normal part of life.
  • Plant a seed in the garden. Water it and watch it grow and bloom. Watch it also and acknowledge when the plant’s life is over and it has gone back into the ground.
  • Find a photo of the loved one at various ages in their life. Show them as they grow and mature and talk about the fact that although their body changed, they were the same person all along.
  • Allow them to draw pictures of them with their loved one, or to draw how they are feeling.
  • If you are worried that your child is experiencing extended grief, and is not coping, please find a grief counsellor in your local area. They are trained and specifically help you with this.

The video below is by Caitlin Doughty and she explains how to talk to children about death, especially if there has been coverage in the media about the death of children through school massacre, or terrorist acts. Please note the video is NOT for children- for parents. If the video image is not present, please reload the page in your browser.

This video is for children. It is Sesame Street- helping Big Bird understand that Mr Hooper is never coming back. He died.


Please share this blog using the social media icons below, as you never know who might need this right now.

funeral dress code

What to wear to a funeral

We all know that we’re going to die, but in reality we just don’t expect it. So when friends and family do actually die, it is a great shock and loss, and we’re totally unprepared for it. The last thing on anyone’s mind is what they should wear to a funeral, yet the day rolls around and we find that not only do we have nothing to wear, but we’re not even sure what’s appropriate. There’s no one to ask and we throw something on hoping that it’s going to be ok.

My trusty friend Alison Triffett from Style Counsel has come to the rescue. Here’s her thoughts on what to wear to a funeral, as well as a handy style guide for you. I hope you find it useful.

Alison Triffett - Style Counsel

What to wear to a funeral by Alison Triffett – Style Counsel

I know. It’s not really the kind of event you get all excited about dressing up for, but it IS one occasion when dress-codes need to be considered so you really do want to be sure you get it right…

No one is ever truly ready for a funeral. And when a loved one passes away, the last thing you will want to do is go shopping for clothes. That’s why always having on hand a few key classic basics (even if you rarely need to wear them in your everyday life) is always a good idea.

Keeping it classic is the key. Whatever colour you decide on, always keep in mind these words when choosing your outfit: RESPECT. MODESTY. CONSERVATIVE. Funerals are never the time for high-fashion or sex-appeal. Please…No plunging necklines, cleavage, sky-high statement stilettos or stand-out-from-the-crowd dressing of any description.

1. No, you don’t HAVE to wear black. In fact, some people specifically ask that you don’t. But if the family have made no formal requests for you to wear a particular colour, black (or navy and dark colours in general) are generally always safe.

2. Yes, you can wear white or light colours – just like you can also wear these to a wedding. But again, the key is to always keep it conservative, modest and respectful. You don’t want to be the focus of attention for any reason. You are there to pay your respects and celebrate someone else’s life. It’s not your time to shine in your lovely latest floral number. Oh, and in summer, no sheer floaty sun-dresses with visible bra-straps or cleavage – ever.

3. No jeans – for girls or guys. Stick to suit-type pants and dress-shoes. Guys, a suit is always best, but at the very least, suit pants, shirt and a tie is will also work.

4. What do the kids wear? Funerals do often take us by surprise and we find ourselves making a mad dash to the mall to find something for the kids to wear. After all, we don’t want grandma turning over in her grave at the wild dress choices of young people, now do we?  Here are some basic guidelines: no blue denim, no minis, no slogan tees, and definitely no thongs. Try black jeans or chinos with a shirt and smart shoes for boys. A pretty frock for the girls, but again, nothing too strappy, short, bold or fluro.

Please share, because you never know who needs this information. Also- I’d love to know in the comments below what other questions you have about funerals? Feel free to write them below or email me at hello@katische.com



I am going to die a long long time in the future…

Dying is not something we like to think about. We’ll worry about it when it happens to us. Which is a long long time in the future, because, you know, we all are going to live to 101.

Well my friends, the fact is that none of us know when we are going to die, and unfortunately for a lot of us, it will involve dementia and perhaps a battle with cancer.

Don’t close this blog yet! I promise I have a vital tool to share with you.

You need to think about what would happen to you if you had an accident or a disease that made it impossible for you to communicate your wishes for medical care. If you were unable to make decisions for yourself, how would you wish to be cared for medically?

Please don’t say- I’ll let my family worry about it. Your body is exactly that – yours and you need to step up and take responsibility for how you wish to be cared for in the event of an accident, a terminal or life limiting illness or in the case of cognitive decline.

Why? Because your family and loved ones will be stressed enough over your situation that they will find it difficult to make tough decisions. They will wish that you had made it clear for them.

Caitlin Dougherty of the Order of the Good Death has made a short video about Advanced Healthcare Directives, and why they are important for YOU.

Please note that the information contained in this video is relevant to all countries, but the specifics will vary from country to country. As Caitlin says, just google “Advanced Directive xxxx ” (Space for the country you live in). I have a whole section of my website dedicated to it:
http://katische.com/writing/advanced-care-plans which includes links to the specific forms you need if you are living in Australia.

Here’s a copy of the specific attachment that I included in addition to my advanced directive. I did this because I specifically wanted to deal with the issue of dementia. I am not saying that you should agree with my decisions in relation to my care should I have dementia. I am asking you to do the hard work and think about what it would be like to have dementia, and importantly what it would be like for your family to care for you if you have dementia.

Do the hard work. Watch some movies, read books about the topic, go visit a nursing home, talk about it with your religious leader and your family, and then make your decision.

This document should be reviewed periodically to ensure your wishes have not changed. My GP has a signed copy and it is filed and stored with my will with my lawyers. My power of attorney also has a copy of these documents.

Directive for situations of irreversible and progressive cognitive decline

Oh, and if you don’t have a will, please understand you are on Santa’s naughty list. There’s only 166 days until Christmas, so get to it!

Who Cares- book launch

There are some books which are published after you need them. These are the books that speak to your heart because they seem to understand exactly what you have been going through. Joan Wilson-Jones has written a book  called “Who Cares” which my mother and I wish was published before my father died. Her book is part memoir and part practical handbook, and is based on her experience caring for her partner, who died as a result of Prostate Cancer. She wrote the book because she could not find anything like it, when she was looking for something to guide her through the difficult job of being a carer.

Click on image to be taken to Amazon.com

Joan is having her book launch this Friday.  I can’t attend as I will be setting up my photographic exhibition for the weekend, however, I strongly urge any who is caring for a seriously ill person to attend this book launch. This book is invaluable.

Joan Wilson- Jones introducing her book and her journey at an impromptu gathering at Karuna Hospice.

Joan Wilson- Jones introducing her book and her journey at an impromptu gathering at Karuna Hospice.




Kicking the shit out of Option B

It is never easy to watch someone suffer. It’s hard to watch their pain and to know what to do to help. Often we do what we think is helpful, yet unintentionally cause pain and suffering. Grief ticks every box in this respect. We wonder how to respond in an obvious time of pain and sadness? I don’t know Sheryl Sandberg, however, I know that what she posted on 3rd of June 2015 on her Facebook page has touched the world.

She has opened the vital conversation about grief. She has shown courage through her words, and 70,833 people responded with personal comments to her post. 394,000 people also felt so strongly about her post that they shared her words. I was so touched by the post that I both responded and shared this post on my Facebook page. I also took the time to read through hundreds of posts, and was absolutely touched by the fact that Sheryl’s vulnerability opened up the space for other people to share. There are so many comments from similarly bereaved spouses. Some lost their partners as long as 20 years ago, yet the pain for them is still real today.

What I learnt from Sheryl’s post is that in being courageously vulnerable, we give people an insight into our world. We help them understand what it is to be us, and to know, in the case of unspoken taboos, ways in which we can help. It also allows people to know that they are not alone. They are not the only people in the world who are feeling the same.

So with this in mind I share Sheryl’s post verbatim with you.

Do I have permission to repost? Technically no. I did ask her, however, as she is taking time to read and respond to each and every comment on her post, this could take a while. I’ll take a punt that she won’t mind. I hope you find this post as moving and informative as I did.

Today is the end of sheloshim for my beloved husband—the first thirty days. Judaism calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do.I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well.But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.And this is why I am writing: to mark the end of sheloshim and to give back some of what others have given to me. While the experience of grief is profoundly personal, the bravery of those who have shared their own experiences has helped pull me through. Some who opened their hearts were my closest friends. Others were total strangers who have shared wisdom and advice publicly. So I am sharing what I have learned in the hope that it helps someone else. In the hope that there can be some meaning from this tragedy.

I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.

I have gained a more profound understanding of what it is to be a mother, both through the depth of the agony I feel when my children scream and cry and from the connection my mother has to my pain. She has tried to fill the empty space in my bed, holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep. She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine. She has explained to me that the anguish I am feeling is both my own and my children’s, and I understood that she was right as I saw the pain in her own eyes.

I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was “It is going to be okay.” That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, “You and your children will find happiness again,” my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good” comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” When I am asked “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

I have learned some practical stuff that matters. Although we now know that Dave died immediately, I didn’t know that in the ambulance. The trip to the hospital was unbearably slow. I still hate every car that did not move to the side, every person who cared more about arriving at their destination a few minutes earlier than making room for us to pass. I have noticed this while driving in many countries and cities. Let’s all move out of the way. Someone’s parent or partner or child might depend on it.

I have learned how ephemeral everything can feel—and maybe everything is. That whatever rug you are standing on can be pulled right out from under you with absolutely no warning. In the last thirty days, I have heard from too many women who lost a spouse and then had multiple rugs pulled out from under them. Some lack support networks and struggle alone as they face emotional distress and financial insecurity. It seems so wrong to me that we abandon these women and their families when they are in greatest need.

I have learned to ask for help—and I have learned how much help I need. Until now, I have been the older sister, the COO, the doer and the planner. I did not plan this, and when it happened, I was not capable of doing much of anything. Those closest to me took over. They planned. They arranged. They told me where to sit and reminded me to eat. They are still doing so much to support me and my children.

I have learned that resilience can be learned.  Adam M. Grant taught me that three things are critical to resilience and that I can work on all three. Personalization—realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word “sorry.” To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault. Permanence—remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. This will get better. Pervasiveness—this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.

For me, starting the transition back to work has been a savior, a chance to feel useful and connected. But I quickly discovered that even those connections had changed. Many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why—they wanted to help but weren’t sure how. Should I mention it? Should I not mention it? If I mention it, what the hell do I say? I realized that to restore that closeness with my colleagues that has always been so important to me, I needed to let them in. And that meant being more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be. I told those I work with most closely that they could ask me their honest questions and I would answer. I also said it was okay for them to talk about how they felt. One colleague admitted she’d been driving by my house frequently, not sure if she should come in. Another said he was paralyzed when I was around, worried he might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing. One of my favorite cartoons of all time has an elephant in a room answering the phone, saying, “It’s the elephant.” Once I addressed the elephant, we were able to kick him out of the room.

At the same time, there are moments when I can’t let people in. I went to Portfolio Night at school where kids show their parents around the classroom to look at their work hung on the walls. So many of the parents—all of whom have been so kind—tried to make eye contact or say something they thought would be comforting. I looked down the entire time so no one could catch my eye for fear of breaking down. I hope they understood.

I have learned gratitude. Real gratitude for the things I took for granted before—like life. As heartbroken as I am, I look at my children each day and rejoice that they are alive. I appreciate every smile, every hug. I no longer take each day for granted. When a friend told me that he hates birthdays and so he was not celebrating his, I looked at him and said through tears, “Celebrate your birthday, goddammit. You are lucky to have each one.” My next birthday will be depressing as hell, but I am determined to celebrate it in my heart more than I have ever celebrated a birthday before.

I am truly grateful to the many who have offered their sympathy. A colleague told me that his wife, whom I have never met, decided to show her support by going back to school to get her degree—something she had been putting off for years. Yes! When the circumstances allow, I believe as much as ever in leaning in. And so many men—from those I know well to those I will likely never know—are honoring Dave’s life by spending more time with their families.

I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds.

I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave. I want option A.” He put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A. As Bono sang, “There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love.” I love you, Dave.


Post by Sheryl Sandberg