For more information about the author, click to view their website: Dignity Memorial
After each mass shooting in the United States, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, recognized as one of North America’s leading death educators and grief counselors, hears from journalists, colleagues, friends, family and others. Here he shares his thoughts on anger spurred by violence and how mourning can help drive change.
What they are experiencing in the aftermath of these deaths is traumatic grief, which is normal grief that has the added component of intense symptoms caused by the violent nature of the incident. Traumatic grief typically includes many heightened emotions, but one of the most pronounced is often anger.
And almost everyone I’ve heard from is angry about these recent shootings. Having some involvement with the funeral home and funeral directors who provided services for the families in Uvalde, Texas, put me over the edge. I, too, can no longer tolerate or stay silent in the face of the mass murder of children, teachers, moviegoers, shoppers and those attending worship services.
While anger, rage and blame in grief can feel unpleasant and sometimes even scary, they’re normal human emotions. It’s important to understand that anger is a form of protest. When we don’t like something that’s happened, especially if we think it’s unfair, we naturally get mad. It’s built into our biology.
Children are often our best teachers about grief. Think of toddlers when their favorite toy is yanked out of their hands. The toddler wants the toy; when it’s taken, their instinctive reaction is to scream or cry or hit. When something we care about is taken from us, our instinctive reaction may be much the same. We protest by getting angry.
Relatedly, the explosive emotions are rooted in the concept of fairness. Whenever we believe that something “should be” a certain way, we often feel angry if it doesn’t turn out that way. Again, our anger is in protest to what we perceive as an injustice. It’s an emotion based on our expectations and understanding of social norms. If a child is shot and killed, we understandably feel that the death is unfair. Young people should not die. We might rage over this injustice. I have heard a lot of people raging since the Uvalde massacre.
Explosive emotions such as anger tend to feel active and powerful. When we’re angry, we’re riled up. We’ve got righteousness in our corner and we’re fixing for a fight. If we act out in anger, we may feel like we’re at least “doing something.” Similarly, anger may give us a false sense of control over things that are out of our control. It is often (but not always) directed outward. It focuses on other people and situations and tries to tell them what they should have done, what they should do and how they should be. This is part of the power construct of anger.
Anger is also functional. As a “fight” response to an immediate threat, anger’s evolutionary purpose is to spur us to respond aggressively when we need to, in the here and now, in order to save our life or the lives of those we love. In the modern world, we rarely have to fight for our lives, but still, anger can move us to take necessary action. If we use anger to motivate us toward effective problem solving, for example, we’re putting the evolutionary utility of anger to good use.
In grief, anger is a bit like the numbness and denial we naturally experience right after a loss. In the early days, numbness and denial protect us from the full force of what has happened, allowing us to absorb the reality slowly over time. In fact, I often call them the “shock absorbers of grief.” They help us survive.
After traumatic loss, our anger similarly often protects us from our more helpless, painful feelings, such as fear, guilt and sadness. I often call these explosive emotions “survival-oriented protest.”
So, we can honor and thank our anger—for a time. But just as we must work to soften our numbness and denial in grief, we must also work to soften our anger, so that we can fully encounter the necessary pain it has done such a good job of guarding us against.
Evolutionarily, it’s meant to give us a quick burst of energy. When anger is prolonged, on the other hand, it stresses the body. Studies have shown strong correlations between anger and high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and weakened immune system. Anger makes people sick; it even kills them.
In the emotional arena, scientists have found that anger is linked to anxiety and depression. Again, while anger is a normal human emotion, feeling angry all the time is not normal. A tendency toward volatile, angry outbursts is also physically, emotionally and socially damaging.
Spiritually, wrestling with anger is largely about wrestling with the big “whys” of human existence. Why do bad things have to happen? Why are we here? In this way, anger and spirituality may naturally go hand-in-hand. But over the long term, ongoing, unrelenting anger can also get in the way of spiritual experiences such as awe, gratitude and joy.
Our anger is a natural symptom of our grief, but we shouldn’t live in a constant, ongoing state of anger, however, because it’s bad for our bodies, minds and spirits.
What we can do is mourn our anger. Mourning means taking our inner grief and expressing it outside ourselves. When we cry or talk about what happened, we’re mourning.
When we pray or meditate on peace, we’re mourning. When we attend vigils or light candles in memory of the victims, we’re mourning. Mourning softens our anger. It tempers the biochemical stress reaction in our bodies and helps move us from crisis mode to functional-living mode. It helps us to integrate our grief and continue on.
We can also take the naturally active nature of anger and use it to effect change, a key component of the utility of anger. When we use our normal anger to do something about a problem, we are both mourning and helping craft progress. We’re using our anger as fuel to prevent at least some unnecessary future loss and grief.
Those angry about the violence can now use their anger as fuel to create positive change. I encourage everyone to educate themselves about the options and then support those you learn are likely to be most effective. Not only can your advocacy make a difference, but it can also help heal your personal anger.
My hope is that understanding and even embracing your anger over such violence will not only help you mourn and integrate your normal and necessary grief but also help our country find a safer, less violent way forward.
Alan Wolfelt is recognized as one of North America’s leading death educators and grief counselors. His books on grief for both caregivers and grieving people have sold more than a million copies worldwide and are translated into many languages. He is founder and director of thein Fort Collins, Colorado, and a past recipient of the Association of Death Education and Counseling’s Death Educator Award.
We all feel blue sometimes, and thats OK. But when sadness and other symptoms interfere with our daily living, it might be something to address.As we age, we may be at increased risk for depression, but this treatable medical condition is not necessarily a normal part of getting older. Depression is not a character flaw. It is not a weakness. It is not your fault. It is an illness. While major life events such as bereavement can trigger it, depression is different from the negative feelings from a difficult life event. Depression causes feelings that are intense, chronic and out of proportion to circumstances. Depression can last for several weeks, months or years, often becoming a chronic illness like diabetes or hypertension that requires treatment. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.Undiagnosed depression can have a physical toll. The National Institutes of Health says that adults with a depressive disorder or symptoms have a 64% higher risk of developing coronary artery disease than those without depression. Some people might be prone to depression due to their genetics, but there is no single cause of depression in older adults. The National Council on Aging lists these as some additional risk factors: Chronic conditions (about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, per the CDC) Decreased functional ability Reduced mobility Chronic pain Financial issues Elder abuse Caregiver stress Lack of physical activity Loneliness Symptoms of depression may differ across cultures, as well as by sex/gender. For instance, according to the Mayo Clinic, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than men. In men, depression often shows up as anger or irritability. Furthermore, symptoms of depression are often different from those in younger people. Sadness is not always the main symptom. It can be a feeling of numbness or lack of interest in activities, which is often attributed to age. Mental health professionals and healthcare providers may sometimes mistake symptoms as reactions to illness or life changes.There are several reasons why depression may be missed. Older adults may be isolated, with few around to notice their symptoms or distress. Also, many do not realize that physical pain can sometimes indicate depression. In addition, we may feel stigma admitting to mental health problems and may be reluctant to talk about feelings and ask for help. Certain medications and medical illnesses can bring on depression or have similar symptoms.As a result, it is important to understand the signs, symptoms and consequences of depression. According to the CDC, here are some of the potential symptoms of depression: Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness Anxiety and worry Irritability, restlessness Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable Fatigue and decreased energy Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions Insomnia, earlymorning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping Overeating or appetite loss Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not get better, even with treatment. Memory problems Lack of motivation and energy Slowed movement and speech Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene). Throughout our lives, we are told that lifestyle changes can improve health and wellness, including mental health. Meditation, breathing exercises and exercise can help people of any age.According to the National Institute on Aging, we can also lower the risk of depression by: Getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night Avoiding isolation and staying connected with friends and family Doing activities that make them happy Telling family, friends or a healthcare provider if they are developing depressive symptoms. Depression is easier to treat before it escalates. Health professionals can rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be causing symptoms of depression such as dementia, Parkinsons disease, heart disease or medication interactions. A primary care doctor can also screen for signs of depression and recommend treatment that might include medication, therapy or a combination of both.Many people with mild to moderate depression respond to psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy, which teaches new ways of thinking and behavior, and changing habits that might contribute to depression. Finding the right medication to treat depression is similar to treating some other illnesses; it might take time to find the right medicine, particularly with age-related changes to metabolism and drug interactions. The most important thing to know if you feel you or someone you know may be suffering from depression is you are not alone. Depression can be treated. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Courtney L. Whitt, Ph.D. is Director of Behavioral Health at Healthcare Network, which offers behavioral health services as a routine part of comprehensive care and traditional counseling services. Healthcare Network provides quality primary care services for children and adults in locations throughout Collier County. To learn more or make an appointment, please call 239.658.3000 or visit HealthcareSWFL.org.
The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed how we live, but perhaps even more heartbreaking, how we are able to grieve. Social distancing has prevented holding funerals or otherwise gathering to mourn the loss of our loved ones, and even a comforting touch or hug isnt safe.Other rituals have been disrupted as well. Jewish and Muslim religions state that there must be a disposition of a persons remains within 24 hours after death, but in many places this is not possible; there are delays as funeral homes, cemeteries and crematories struggle to keep up with the high number of COVD-19 deaths.We mourn the loss of loved ones, and also our many ways of saying goodbye: the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva, the week-long period in which friends and family visit those in mourning to offer condolences and provide comfort that dates back to biblical times; the Irish wake, simultaneously joyful and sad, when people share songs, drinks, and stories about the departed; the Islamic ritual washing of the deceaseds body; and countless others.Not being able to perform rituals [is] devastating for people, said psychologist Noe Kasali, director of the Bethesda Counseling Center. It prolongs their suffering.One family member expressed how unsettling the inability to gather in mourning his fathers passing is: It feels unreal, like it didnt happen.In response, funeral providers, communities, and families are finding alternative ways to be together to honor loved ones who have died.Technology is playing a big part. Mourners are gathering virtually via Zoom and Skype, the free video/audio communications platforms. Families are filming funerals live on Facebook, which allows not only loved ones to take part virtually, but also opens the experience to condolences from many in the shared experience of isolation. Some funeral homes are livestreaming services, so friends and family far away can participate.In a first-person story on cheddar.com, Max Godnick described a funeral held on Zoom for his grandmother, who passed away after complications from COVID-19, as the most meaningful, spiritual, intimate, and inspiring funeral Ive ever been to. The moment encapsulated the best of social media playing out in real-time. I was provided a window into my familys global network of love and support separated by distance but brought together by a single purpose and Zoom grid view.Just like so many other families around the world right now, mine learned just how hard it is to lose a loved one without being able to see them, be with them, or say goodbye in their final days, Godnick said.Others are creating new ways of honoring those theyve lost. In County Kerry, Ireland, neighbors lined the mile-long road from the church to the graveyard to say goodbye to their friend Betty Ryan, careful to maintain safe distance between one another. A beautiful tribute and great example of community spirit, one observer said.Closer to home, in Louisville, KY, a family held a drive-by funeral procession. One by one, cars stopped in front of the home of John Renn Jr. and tossed flowers, held signs at the car windows, and smiled and waved at the family.What a time were living in right now, said Renns nephew, Rick Obst. Everybody needs a hug, but throwing tragedy on top of it? These kinds of celebrations have to be done and can be done. Were trying to set an example, hopefully, of how we can do this the best way and still stay safe from the coronavirus.Many families who may have been debating whether to choose burial or cremation for a loved one are now choosing cremation already the choice of more than half in the US. This gives the option of scheduling a memorial service at a later date; also, in a tightened economy, cost has become a bigger consideration, since cremation is about one-third the price of burial.Its important to find connection in whatever ways you can, said Megan Devine, a therapist, grief advocate, and author. Even starting a text thread with close friends to talk about the person youve lost can be helpful.Other alternative mourning rituals:Talk to people. Reach out to your social support network family and friends through phone calls, emails, and video platforms. While physically separated, staying connected, talking and sharing stories about your loved one, can help alleviate the feeling of being alone in your grief.Create and express. There are so many ways to pay a personal tribute to your loved one, and art is both healing and a release. Write about or to them, or journal about how youre feeling. Cook their favorite meal. Plant a tree or flowers in their memory. Read their favorite book, listen to their favorite music, or watch their favorite movie. On social media, you can create a Facebook or Instagram page dedicated to them, and invite others to contribute or share their memories as well. Do an art or music project that youll be able to share with loved ones when youre together.Plan a memorial service for later. In a time of uncertainty, it can be deeply healing to make plans for what youll do in the future, when youll again be surrounded by family and friends who will join you in honoring this special person. Rather than thinking of a tribute as being canceled, you can use this extra time to plan something special.Ask for help. If youre struggling, there are grief resources you can go to for support. The Dougy Center, Grief.com and Grief Resource Network offer groups and programs; you can also subscribe to the Neptune Societys free bereavement series, 12 Weeks of Peace.Most important, dont deny your grief. Even if, in the time following your loved ones death, you cant mourn and celebrate their life in the way you wish, acknowledge your feelings of loss and sadness. In the midst of this larger crisis, when you may be overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, its not healthy to minimize or dismiss how this personal loss is affecting you. Its okay to cry. We all grieve in different ways, so be true to your own feelings, and ask for the emotional support you need.______________________________________________________________________________________________The Neptune Society is the nations oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.
When you experience a loss, people from all periods of your life will be there to help. Whether its old friends, family friends, or anybody else you didnt quite expect, youll want to write them a Thank you note for their assistance. The same goes for those that you knew would be there, like friends that are still around, or other family members. But, it goes without saying, if youve never written a note like this before, it can be tough to put your words to paper. Neptune Society is here to help you in your time of need by providing you with some tips on what to include in a sympathy thank you note, or funeral thank you card. What To Include In A Sympathy Or Funeral Thank You Card Writing a sympathy thank you note, or a funeral thank you card, may be easier than you think. The card and messaging doesnt have to be long its more ideal that its concise. Short and to the point is always more effective than long thank you notes. With all that youre currently experiencing, the last thing you should need to worry about is writing the perfect thank you card for someone whos assisted in the funeral of a loved one. Whats more important is to make this note or card personal. There are a number of reasons you may want to thank someone for help at a funeral. Whether this person provided food for the guests, sent flowers, or was simply there for you, its best to personalize the message accordingly. Not every card need to be personalized. Since most of the cards will be for simply attending the funeral or memorial serve, its fine to include similar phrases for each one. View some of the ideas below, and personalize where applicable. Thank you for attending (I, We) appreciate you attending (loved ones) funeral. Thank you for taking the time to come to (loved ones) funeral. It meant a lot to (us, me) to see you at (loved ones) funeral Thank you for sharing the celebration of (loved ones) life with (me, us). Follow-up (I, we) appreciate the effort you took in traveling such a distance to attend the funeral. The stories and memories you shared about (loved one) were one-of-a-kind. Your presence and words were a comfort for (me, the family) in this time. Your stories about (loved one) were special to us. You lifted our spirits with your words about (loved one). It meant a lot to us to hear how (loved one) touched the lives of others. You meant so much to (loved one) and I can tell (he/she/they) meant a lot to you. Celebrating the life of (loved one) would not have been completed without you. Closing line Your presence meant the world to (me/the family). Your support made a huge difference during this difficult time. Thank you for your words of support. Your kindness/support means more than words can possibly express. (I, the family) will always remember your kindness. You were a true friend to (loved one) and will always be an important part of the family. Now that youve got a few ideas about what to write in your thank you note, you can choose the best way to express your gratitude in just a few lines. Remember, the people on your list for thank you notes are there for a reason. They supported you and your family during a tough time, and they care. Before you go, check out some more general tips on writing your thank you notes.Dont Worry If Time Has Passed Since The Funeral: While its best to get your notes in the mail as soon as possible, people will totally understand if it takes a couple of months. Ask For Help If You Need It: After the funeral, there may be more people to thank than you initially thought. Dont be afraid to ask friends or family members for help. Include Other Family Members In The Signature: If youre sending a thank you note on behalf of the family, signing the card as The family of (loved one) allows the sender to express the gratitude of the whole family. If youre the only one whos been assisted, just sign your own name. Break Up Your List to Make it Manageable: Tackling the entire list at once can be overwhelming. Breaking the work up into manageable chunks or pieces can make it easier to get started, and get it done. Include Your Full Name And The Name Of Your Loved One In The Letter: Be sure to include your last name when thanking those who arent a close friend (for example, the office or workplace of your loved one). This is especially important if youre a bit late on sending out your acknowledgements. Short but Meaningful is the Goal: Creating a simple 1-3 sentence thank you note is the main goal here, and you want to make sure it comes from the heart. Additionally, if you choose to print your notes as opposed to hand-writing them, make sure to include a bit of personalization with a brief note and a signature. Writing A Sympathy Note Doesnt Have To Be Hard Youve dealt with enough turmoil in the past couple of months if youve recently experienced the death of a loved one. This blog post is intended to assist those that are writing a sympathy note for attendance of a funeral and have never done it before. At Neptune Society, we aim to be as helpful as possible, in all aspects, when you experience the death of a loved one. We hope this blog post was of assistance to you in your time of need. ______________________________________________________________________________________________The Neptune Society is the nations oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.