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People deserve to know of loss

Tue., Feb. 26, 2013

Q. My uncle, who lives in another state, died in July, but my cousin didn’t let us know until six months later. The family had no memorial service or obituary, but a lot of people knew my uncle in our city, his childhood home. Would it be OK for us to write an obituary and publish it in the newspaper?

A. Go for it. Write the obituary. And if you want to gather together for a ritual or a party celebrating his life, even better.

Grief is not the exclusive domain of the people who are closest to the deceased, such as spouses and children. You lost an uncle. His childhood buddies lost an old friend. People deserve to be remembered by those whose lives touched theirs.

“It’s all about telling the story,” said Dennis Murphy, president of Heritage Funeral Home in Spokane. “It finalizes the event. It acknowledges the fact the death has taken place. We’ve told the story. And now we can move on.”

Let your cousin know about your plans to publish the obit, and you may need her help to fill in some of the details of your uncle’s life, but you don’t need her permission to publish it.

“If she blows a cork, that’s her prerogative,” Murphy said. “But she might welcome it, so don’t do it clandestinely.”

Why don’t some families publish obituaries or hold memorial services? Sometimes it’s the cost. Sometimes, no service is held at the dead person’s request. But as Murphy reminds us: Memorials are for the living.

Recently, one of Murphy’s friends lost his girlfriend. Her family didn’t hold a service, but Murphy’s friend published an obituary, and Murphy hosted a party at his house in the girlfriend’s honor.

“It really helped my buddy,” Murphy said. “It was really important to have the event and tell the stories. We had a great goodbye.”

Q. We will be leaving our home and town to take jobs 1,700 miles away. I am already sad. Any ideas on how we can “say goodbye” to our life here as we leave?

A. Leaving a place and people you love yields a unique form of grief. So much excitement looms in anticipation of new adventures while letting go of all that is familiar in a daily routine may evoke sadness. Take time to say goodbye and honor your experiences – people, places, restaurants, shopping, church, workplace colleagues.

“Build a RAFT,” advises Barbara F. Schaetti, principal consultant of Transition Dynamics, a service for expats and repatriates. Her RAFT includes: “Reconciling conflicts with others; Affirming the relationships you have had; saying Farewell to people, places, pets and possessions; and Thinking ahead by gathering information about your new (home).”

As you leave your home create a ritual of goodbye. Spend a few moments in each room talking about your favorite memories of that sacred space, such as watching your child take his first step in the kitchen, or the year all your neighbors watched the Super Bowl in your basement.

With imagination you can re-create parts of your life in your new setting. For example, a Centralia, Wash., hospital care team, working with a patient, noticed her acute grief at learning she would have to go from her own home to an assisted-living facility.

When a social worker asked the patient what she would miss most, the woman answered, “My flowers.” The social worker asked the patient’s family to photograph and then frame the pictures of her flowers, allowing the patient to “take” her flowers to her new home.

If you take time before you leave to say goodbye to people, places and memories, your journey forward may be less stressful.

Writes Schaetti: “The research literature on transitions is clear: successful adjustment to a new location depends upon bringing appropriate closure in the old.”

Catherine Johnston, a health care professional from Olympia, and Rebecca Nappi, a Spokesman-Review features writer, welcome your questions about what to do in times of illness, dying, death and grief. Contact them through their EndNotes blog at blogs/endnotes.

Tags: EndNotes

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