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I attended a Zoom photography workshop last spring. I’m not a photographer, but I love pictures. What I learned during the three sessions was to watch for what I almost missed.  Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? Kim McKellar suggests in her poetry, “I took a photo but didn’t see you little bird, I’d focussed on a sassy Jay . . . our tools in life for survival ‘sometimes feather soft but oh so very strong, like kindness, like hope, like love.’ That is vitalizing advice for those among us who grieve. 

In this year, 2020, there have been many experiences and layers of grief. Some may take a lifetime to understand, define and to process our thoughts. This is world-wide, among the rich and the poor, the accepted and the rejected – we all stand together.

What do you think of when you look at this photograph. This tall sentinel grabs my attention. I think of loneliness, rejection or being left behind. Maybe the phrase, “Now what? Or why me?” comes to mind.  After I looked at this lone corn stalk for a moment, I began to see other areas of the picture, a bush standing tall waiting for spring, a beautiful field pausing, and the grass along the bottom. It is not bright, easily missed, but it’s green, alive. It won’t keep its colour through the harsh days of Southern Ontario’s winter. But, it’ll be the first of everything else to boast a kaleidoscope of green across the headland as it spreads and strengthens with rain and sunrays.  

Yes, the old revived, and the new will take root. We will walk into 2021, scarred by the losses of 2020, but with a new vision and interpretation of what waits there for us. 

Photograph: Sarah Runstadtier-Auld Quote: Kim McKellar (What the Earth Already Knows, May 2020)

Helpful Words?



My mother died many years ago, in 1983, to be exact. I remember the day. It was just before Christmas. No, that didn’t make it more difficult. If anything, the joy of new life was alive around me, and I drew from it. I didn’t apply cliches, which, for me, only pads the raw truth. I found ongoing challenges to hear that I’d ‘lost’ my mother. It seemed to be a common thought that I would ‘lose’ her.

I have a question for you. How do you feel about the term, lost and lose, when you’re coping with relational grief? What words do you use to express your sympathy? And do you like those cliches that one person passes to another?

Granted, we suffer in and through the tragedy of ‘loss.’ We grieve. We mourn the loss of a relationship and the one with whom we have shared life. We feel alone. There are elements of our relationship that we lose and will never regain. When the time is right for families, is it helpful to assist them in positive ways to remember, tell stories and dig into photo albums. Is it useful to give thought to a different understanding or choice of other words for ‘lose’ and ‘loss’ when considering death?

Since I’m reviewing words, consider the term “Lost and Found”. Can those of us surround the family and close friends who grieve deeply, help them emotionally find their loved ones in stories or memory? Can we gently open this topic when the time is right and ask questions about the people for whom they grieve? To see their loved one in photo albums, hear her on a video and watch him in home-movies can be healing. I know it’s not the same. It doesn’t cut it for being with a loved one in person. It doesn’t replace the one for whom they mourn. Grief is a process, hard work, and there’s always time to watch for the opportunity to help ourself and others take the next step.

If these words prompt some thoughts for you, take some time and make some notes.


It’s a New Day a-comin’


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We live in hope that we are entering a new day. Hours not fully viewed, yet still bear a resemblance to what we know as familiar. The sunrise gives us a perfect example of how we get a sneak preview of the beauty a new day might offer. Yes, a storm might come and cause us to change plans, or board up the windows or maybe just cover some sensitive plants in the garden. A storm comes and goes, sometimes leaving wreckage, other times welcome in the heat of summer.

When I look at sunrays, I like to think about how many and then apply that number to positive areas in my day. Interesting that half of this sunrise picture is darkened leaving some rays more distinct than others. Is life a little like that for you now? Does this remind you of hidden areas waiting for you to grieve? We reflect on what used to be and wonder if those days will ever return. At this time, our day-to-day hours have only a vague likeness to 2019. And yet, we live out our day the best we can, give thanks to the front-line workers and all who help on the home-front. And we look forward to tomorrow.

In all of this, I see a positive and hopeful endurance amongst people. Even the students who missed their graduation walk, or families who couldn’t sit with their loved ones in death. Maybe frustration surfaces when those doctor and dentist appointments had to be rescheduled. Yet, many seem to rise to these challenges with intensity naming their frustration and then making plans to compensate.

I see strong people emerging out of this pandemic. Some have limited resources to celebrate the 3rd stage because of heartache, disappointment or even fear, and I invite them along with the rest of us to pause, to watch a sunrise and to consider the gift of hope.

Jot down some responses in your journal of the confident ways that are emerging in your life.


Photo credit: Sharron Marie

Walking into the New-Normal

The phone call changed everything for me. “Sorry to hear she died.” We talked for a few minutes more before saying goodbye. Immediately I checked the local funeral home obituaries. Yes, there was her picture. But what does one do in this COVID-19 era? What is the risk? Would I, could I go?

I began to think about how all of this would happen: masks, distancing, waving, throwing kisses or demonstrating hugs and . . . standing alone. I decided that I could do any of that or all of it. But, there was something else to consider. I hadn’t been out of the house much since March lockdown, and this was June. I hadn’t driven, and I wasn’t even sure what health rules had changed since the last time I’d heard the news.

At the appointed time, I drove to the cemetery. I walked by some people that ordinarily I would have moved directly to them to offer a hug. But that was not to be. My worries faded as I made my way along the public road past familiar tombstones. As I grew close to the open grave, I had the opportunity to offer condolences to the immediate family through distancing and proceeded to space six feet from anybody.

This was the new normal, and I had found my way into it with a certain amount of ease. I didn’t feel alone or lonely, even though I stood by myself. Within view were my family plots, and around me were known names written across tombstones. The minister’s clear voice comforted me with familiar scripture passages introducing a message. Several family members spoke, telling the rest of us about holidays on the farm and favourite meals. At the appropriate time, the minister, along with the funeral director, offered the committal. The clergy closed the service with the blessing. It was the familiar that led me through step by step with ease.

Everyone stood quite. A man walked to the gravesite and put a small speaker on the casket and a fresh lyrical country tune filled the air.  It seemed without further words, we sensed oneness with each other. When it finished people continued to distance while talking and some walked back to their cars. More than me had managed the new normal. Sometimes, it takes a decision to do it.

Is there something in your grief process that would begin the process of healing with a decision? Jot down some notes and see where it takes you.

Before-and-After: What helps?


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We are living in a new normal—very little remains of what we used to take for granted, with the exception of spring. And in Ontario, she’s showing her lovely face on every corner.

When I reflect on my life, I find myself thinking of the before-and-after theme. There have been weight-loss statements, songs, movies, books and yes, life experiences such as we’re living now with that theme. You will have your before-and-after thoughts. Some will cause you to grieve, and others will help you pause to plan, while there will always be those efforts that leave you helpless. Sometimes, acknowledging this helps to cope.

An essential line of thinking about how life changes before our eyes might be around divorce, death in the family, loss of significant finances, friendship, or consistency in your life. Heartbreak and overwhelming emotional responses can cause turmoil for many around during this time. Many people have had loved ones die over the past months and they were not allowed to draw near to them in their last hours. And then the usual gathering of family friends that generously showers support and care on the family would not have been allowed.  So many situations saturated with grief soaks up more of the same.

Consider this chart and add your own words. This is not an exhaustive list, by any stretch of the imagination. It can serve as an example and you can take it from there. You might not have encountered some of the words under ‘before’ or as you read the ‘after’ list, you might think they don’t fit. Do what you can with the chart. It’s yours. Some words may not count, while others might fall right into your everyday life. For some people, it helps to name the situation, even if changes out of their reach.

While walking hand-in-hand with sorrow, perhaps it is the time to welcome a pleasant surprise to help you realize that caring thoughts can make a difference in someone else’s life as well as yours. I’ve read some phrases recently and they have been life changers. In an obituary, “You do not know me, but I . . . I just wanted you all to know that even strangers can feel your pain.”

An author received a surprise note of appreciation for her book. Often the gratitude that we don’t expect or hadn’t requested gives a tremendous word of encouragement. I received this card in the mailbox when I recently gave a much used and loved garden-wagon to a friend.

Try some different and interesting words in the chart. Try for happy thoughts on the ‘after’ side. Look at helpful ways to cope with grief, disappointment, challenge . . . as well as blessings. 

From Yesterday Until Tomorrow


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The year 2020 will go down in history as a grief-stricken year. Yet, books, blogs, memoirs, articles, and essays surface as ways people cope. Social media connects, and friendly emails relate. We touch in with what helps us.

Have you had to cancel significant dates? Arrangements, locations, wardrobes, and invitations now set aside cause people to think of alternative measures. Weddings, anniversaries, graduations, reunions and many other plans bring change.

Limiting and comforting a loved one’s final days has to be a painful experience. Having to say goodbye from a distance heightens family and friend’s grief. And then limited to gather in support of one another as a caring community is a continuous ache in one’s heart

Imposed isolation can be difficult for many. Social connections can sever. Beloved people are out of reach. Loneliness and depression run rampant.  Emotions hold fear captive. Limited finances add to difficulties. Yet, good grief threads its way through unresolved interpretations and increases healing.

In spite of our limits, we’re learning to cope, make-do, do without, fill our time with productive thinking, compromise and tolerate. We continue to accept a new way of life and experience an increasing degree of awareness. We’re learning the importance of receiving help and reaching out to others.

Identifying thoughts and feelings aid in healing. Write a letter to someone today. Add to your journal. Send a digital card. Say a prayer. Sing a song. Tape a smiling face to your front door. Light a candle in your window for front-line workers. Watch the grass open to spring. Think of good things. And, stay well.


Where Do We Begin?


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The world has changed. It is grieving. We are in a different Canada than we were this time last month. You will be in a different space in your country. We share differently. And we care differently. Some of us are encircled by family and loved ones which makes it easier to live in this difference. Some people are alone, taking careful steps. Wherever you live on the world’s map, Covid-19 has emotionally decreased the space between us, and yet we are encouraged to widen our personal space with others. We hear stories on the television or radio or social media of grief-stricken areas, people of all ages, and in different situations.

Where do we begin to grieve? How to we support others who are grieving? How do we grieve for a world that is not like it was and will not be again? Because of our contacts, it is not unusual to have friends and acquaintances around the world. Many parents have adult children in different parts of the globe. And many people travel the world for their employment. There are those who are housebound and can not see their community past their window. And of course, we remember the sick and ageing in hospitals and nursing homes. And those in senior’s residence who wait when the door is closed to visitors. The list is long. Where do we begin? How do we keep ourselves aware of those grieving, those in need and those who need a caring thought? And how are you able to receive support and comfort in your grieving?

Take a few moments and write a list of people who come to mind that you can phone or drop a note. As well, be ready for someone who reaches out to you through a loving greeting card, text or message, and receive it graciously. It is a new world we’re living in. And we grieve. 

The only way is up and over


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How long does this road wind up-hill?
I’ve been climbing since that timeless day
When my life suddenly stood still
And in one spot I seemed to stay.


I’ll change my shoes, and feel at peace.
But, that only makes me more aware
that avoiding my climb would increase
the load I carried and strain to bear.

Well, I’ll wear my sunglasses, but it doesn’t provide
help as I can’t seem to find a guide.
So I’ll take my cane, and I’ll find my way
Or beside the ditch, I’ll have to stay.

You would have figured out by now that I’m not a poet. Sometimes it’s a good exercise to use grief words when writing. As part of this poem, I thought of a time when I was about twelve and showing cattle with my father. The thought “My heifer should have won that class” haunted me during that fall fair.

As a kid, how did I overcome the grief of loss for that life event? I wouldn’t have used the words grief or loss. I wouldn’t have known the feelings that filled my mind and heart actually had a name. I remember my dad saying, “There’s always next year”. Like the poem suggested, I could change my shoes or wear sunglasses or pretend (maybe that will be my next verse). But the loss still remains in my mind so many years later, although it doesn’t have a tug on my mind. Chuckle! After all these years, I still think my heifer should have won that class.

Think of a memory in your childhood that you wish were different and write a few lines in your journal.

Tomorrow is the First Day of the Rest of your Life


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Christmas 2019 is over for many people.

For others, it stretches into January as they practice the twelve days of the season.

Was Christmas a day on the calendar through which you are relieved you survived? Did you listen to other people laugh when you remained silent? Did you feel like other’s jokes didn’t include you?  Did you check your watch more than once, hoping you could turn out the lights and go home?

Maybe! But the pleasant flavour in this Christmas soup is that you can put on the lid and let it cool. Give yourself credit. You endured it. Perhaps you learned some new survival techniques. Did something work for you that had failed over the last few months? Is it possible that you look forward to the new year with a renewed sense of belonging, identity, or new answers to old questions? Did you learn something about yourself that you didn’t know before this time? And now you’re ready to put feet to this new truth.

In this short grief reflection, I asked a half dozen questions. You might think that grieve and grow should give you some leads to a more fruitful year ahead. But here I asked questions? Why? Because you are the expert, not me (well sometimes, grief wraps unwanted arms around me too). It is then that I also begin to search for answers. Occasionally, they are right in front of me, and other times I have to go looking.

And now it’s the end of the year.

Maybe it’s been the kind of year that you never want to repeat. Perhaps this year held enough sorrow for a lifetime.

But you, brave one, have put on your runners, did up your laces, and set your eye on the tomorrows of your life. You’ve gathered up some goals for 2020 and said a prayer that with God’s help and/or family or friends, you look at the horizon for a new day to break – and it will, tomorrow.

Take a few moments and jot down some good memories. And then, make a brief wish-list for the tomorrows in your life.

Fear versus Trust


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Have you ever felt helpless because of a situation beyond your control? Emotions surface, such as fear of the unknown, or panic in the immediate cause questions like, ‘what next?’ Perhaps the thought, “If this could happen, then what about other unknown circumstances.”  And notions of unpredictable crises flood your thoughts like a race car heading for the checkered flag. Any of these beliefs can cause anxiety, which can take a person into all kinds of fear.

I saw some of these emotions come to life as I stood on the harbour sidewalk, looking into a dense fog.  Some people were sure the ferry wouldn’t reach the shore. People debated if the ferry did arrive as scheduled, would it make a return trip to the other shore. Sometimes we can talk ourselves into believing the worse scenario.

A woman said, “I’m not going out in that soup.” While another encouraged, “Get a meal and some reading material, and we’ll be home before you know it.

And then cheers rose above the disgruntled comments as people heard the horn and sited the ferry gliding towards the dock with the utmost of confidence. The usual noise followed in the predictable order as the ferry locked into position and opened enormous jaws for cars to drive out. All in precise order, passengers boarded.

Later in the dining area, all our favorites were listed on the menu. After ordering, the competent staff handed plates with steaming food to quiet our appetite. As passengers looked out into nothingness, the ferry pressed through thick fog for close to two hours. As time went on, people brought out decks of cards, some played games on their device, while others talked or slept. I wrote this blog and thought about how trust dissolves fear. Awareness intensifies confidence.

Especially in the grief process, trust and awareness are two huge emotions to conquer the fear of getting lost in the murkiness of the unknown. Sometimes people can lose their way while struggling through the grief process. Failure to acknowledge the shore of peace and confidence is coming closer take them off course.

Consider your grief process. Are there levels of losses, i.e. financial, relationships, leadership, self-confidence that rob you of trust and awareness? Perhaps taking a few minutes to jot them down in your journal will provide the courage to work through foggy situations and bring you peace of mind.