Archive for December, 2012

We welcome Julie Henszey, guest blogger and owner of Peace of Mind Transitions to the Grief Center blog. Julie’s experience leads to some practical advice on a difficult topic. We hope you find value in her words.

Julie Henszey head shot

There comes a time for most of us when our parents’ house no longer meets their needs. At this juncture, adult children want to help their parents find the best solution. This typically then leads to the inevitably daunting task of clearing out and selling the house. It’s a lot to get your arms around.

There are some simple strategies we can employ that can make downsizing and transitioning easier both for us and for our parents.

1. Focus on the positive

Keep in mind all the benefits that our parent or parents will derive from the transition. For example, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities frequently open the door to greater social interaction, if not a much richer social life.

Seniors who live alone in their homes and face chronic health issues can become socially isolated. The weather, transportation issues, and low energy can lead to “staying in” rather than “going out.”

In community living situations, these issues are either reduced or mitigated all together. Daily activities are just a few steps away, as well as unlimited opportunity for conversation. In addition, these activities are usually strategically designed to use brainpower and fine motor skills, keeping the mind alert and healthy.

This time of life doesn’t have to be viewed as a period of “diminishing returns” for our parents, even with declining health. We can take it for what it is, bond with our parents as they embrace the new and unknown, and experience it all with gratitude.

2. Manage and enjoy the flood of emotions

When it comes time to clear out the house we likely grew up in, not only is the sheer amount of physical labor enormous, but it’s emotional.

So bring on the emotions. This is the opportunity to say goodbye to the family home in a way that has meaning and purpose. The process opens the door to reminiscing and celebrating all the good things, along with all the challenges, that have molded us and our family into what we are today.  Let all those emotions naturally ebb and flow and savor those that create some positive energy. Let any emotions that feel heavy ignite and then extinguish, like a match used to light a candle. Take it all in, smile at the memories, and don’t leave the Kleenex box in the car!

Some folks like to create a ceremonial moment, such as burying a box in the back yard containing a list of their favorite memories growing up and a few symbolic items. Other folks take snapshots and create a photo album using digital technology, ordering multiple copies to give to members of their family. We can do whatever makes us feel good without sapping our energy.

3. Break down clearing out the house into steps

If you break your project into four steps and create some deadlines, you’ll find it a bit more manageable, perhaps even a tad fun.

  • First, go through the house with your parents and any available, interested siblings and make a list of everything that someone might want to take into possession. Have a camera handy and take a photo of each item.
  • Secondly, share the inventory with family members. Hold a group discussion about how to best divvy up belongings among siblings and others and collaboratively create a system that feels fair to everyone.  One straight-forward method is to select items in rounds, letting each participant pick one item from the inventory during each round.
  • Third, have each sibling pick a deadline by which they will get all their chosen belongings from the house.
  • Finally, go through the remainder of items in the house and label them for donation, resale, or permanent disposal and then arrange for removal.

By creating some structure and deadlines, we gain assurance that the project will get done and we remove the stress. Tell family stories while you’re at the house and don’t rush through. Clear your calendar for a few Sundays. Leave your worries and tension at the door. Bring a bottle of wine or make spaghetti in the kitchen to eat with family on paper plates. Give yourself this gift of time.

Transitions don’t have to be hard. We can use a few simple strategies that will make the process go more smoothly and keep us feeling positive.  Embarking on the journey with some faith in how to navigate it makes all the difference in gaining peace of mind, both for yourself and for your parent.

Julie Henszey

Peace of Mind Transitions




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All in a day

I started this day by enjoying breakfast with Milwaukee’s health care heroes, including one very special individual from my own organization. This event concluded with recognition of the first responders, who heroically and selflessly ran into the Sikh Temple and Azana Spa when anyone else’s instinct would be to run out. 

When I got back to work, I began posting the smiling photos of our celebration on Facebook. In moments, I noticed a string of comments, sympathetic comments directed to a school in Connecticut. As the day progressed, word spread through our office, and through my social networks. I navigated from CNN to MSNBC to ABC News obsessively in my spare moments. 
My instinct was to blame gun control, inadequate mental health care, politics and violence on the media. But if anyone could have known how to stop this, they would have done everything in their power. There is no fault. No blame on anyone but the one reporters are calling the “damaged soul.”
My connection to the victims of the local shootings or today’s tragedy is not immediate. The pit in my stomach still won’t go away. Fear is simmering below the surface. I grieve the loss of a seemingly more simple world, where this type of violence was not a regular occurrence, where schools, places of worship, movie theaters and spas were safe. The unanswerable questions plague my mind and rest heavily on my heart.
My work family provides support related to grief and loss. But tonight, for the first time, I’m not sure that our experts and experience are enough. I’m overwhelmed by the feeling that our nation and the world have changed. That there is no safe place and no logic to be applied to every day situations. Cancer and dementia and heart disease are terrible, but this is completely different. This is evil inflicted on purpose. This changes our world. There is nothing natural about this. And I’m not sure there is a natural process for healing these hurts, these losses. 
Tonight, the smiles and celebration of this morning seem far away. Tonight I feel heavy. There are heroes in every community, on every block and around every corner. What comes most naturally to many people is helping, comforting, caring for others. Yet the damage inflicted by someone who has suffered couldn’t be stopped, no many how many heroes were in that school. Tonight I send my prayers to the universe: bring healing and peace to those who’ve lost, bring health and help to those who feel violence is the only answer, bring us all the strength to figure out what has gone wrong, and change this world. I wish for a safe haven…for everyone.

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By Pete Reinl, Director of Grief Support Services for Church and Chapel Funeral Homes

  • Think about what you really want to do for the holidays this year – what you are capable of doing this year…Where do you want to spend the holidays and with whom? Etc.…In other words, plan ahead and discuss your plans with the significant people in your life…Hopefully they will understand your needs, but if they don’t, it is very important that you honor what you need this holiday season…


  • ‘No’ is a complete sentence…Your ‘no’ doesn’t need any explanations or justifications…


  • Give yourself permission to do things differently this year…Give yourself permission to not do some things at all this year…


  • Listen to your heart and the voice within you – it’s there for a reason – trust it…Trust what your body is saying as well, it instinctively ‘knows’ what you need…


  • Be careful not to isolate yourself…The temptation to do so can be especially strong during the holidays…Take some time for yourself, but also let those who love you spend time with you…This may take some internal ‘nudging’ on your part, but being with others is as important as spending time alone…’Dose’ yourself and try to find that place of balance inside of you…


  • Realize the absence of your loved one will be especially noticeable and difficult when the rest of the family gathers… It is okay and a good thing to talk about what everyone is thinking; “he / she should be here.” Realize too, in some families this conversation may not be possible since we all grieve differently…Perhaps a symbolic gesture such as a lit candle next to a photo of your loved one set in a prominent place is enough for now…


  • Initiate the exchange of stories about your loved one – folks will feel more apt and comfortable to share stories in your presence if they hear you sharing stories about your loved one…Voice his / her name aloud – in doing so  you give others permission to voice his / her name as well…This is a wonderful way to give and receive the precious gift of additional memories…


  • Allow yourself a ‘way out’…‘Plan your escape’ in case you need it…This means telling the host ahead of time that though you will come, you may need to leave early…Take your own car so you can leave when you wish or enlist someone to drive you agreeing prior on an appointed time to leave…


  • Lower your expectations…be gentle with yourself and with others…


  • Don’t be afraid of your laughter or your tears…They both are signs of your love and your humanity…


  • Breathe – Don’t forget to fully breathe…That may sound silly, but often when we are stressed we breathe very lightly…Full breaths – fully breathing – relaxes and grounds us, and gives us perspective…


  • Perhaps, you might want to try one or two of the following ideas:


  • Take the money you would have spent on a gift for your loved one and buy something for someone in need…


  • Light a candle, or several, in memory of your loved one…


  • Plant a plant to commemorate your loved one. Make the planting into a ritual with invited family and friends. Perhaps purchase a living Christmas Tree this year and use it as your in-house holiday tree…Plant it in Spring and serve punch and cookies after the planting…


  • Set a place for your loved one at the holiday dinner table. Place a candle or flower on the plate in his / her honor…


  • If sending Christmas cards this year, instead of signing their name on the card you might add a symbol of your loved one such as a butterfly, bird, or heart, or you may want to include your loved one’s obituary, or include one of your loved one’s favorite poems or a favorite quote or ‘saying’…

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