We thank Pete Reinl, Director of Grief Support Services, Church and Chapel Funeral Homes for his monthly contributions to the Grief Resource Center blog.

When a mother bird nudges her baby out of the nest, is she giving up or letting go?

When a tree loses its leaves in the autumn, is it giving up or letting go?

When a caterpillar decides to enter a cocoon – its chrysalis, is it giving up or letting go?

When a flower unveils its petals after days of being a bud, is it giving up or letting go?

When a woman who has treated her brain tumor for over two years decides ‘that’s enough’ and reaches out to hospice, is she giving up or letting go?

When someone decides he needs space and distance from his family of origin for a while, perhaps years, is he giving up or letting go?

When someone who struggles with addiction finally chooses to acknowledge the addiction and accepts needing a recovering program, is he giving up or letting go?

When a grieving person chooses to share her loved one’s belongings, is she giving up or letting go?

When life looks consistently bleak, every day such a struggle, each dominated by depression and he at last notices and chooses to get help, is he giving up or letting go?

What a tension and sometimes a fine line this question of ‘giving up or letting go’. There is clearly a difference between them both in attitude and in motivation, albeit subtle at times. Many, many years ago, shortly after being released from inpatient treatment for alcoholism and attending AA, my mom shared with me a reflection regarding ‘giving up or letting go’. Through the years I’ve posted this reflection in my offices and often find myself reading it. I share it with you now because it has helped me gain perspective many times, and, because, for most of us, a very significant part of our journey of grief involves, dare I say demands, our ‘letting go’ on many different levels. There is no ‘healing’ and/or reconciling our grief in giving up, only in letting go. There can be no ‘transformation’ in giving up, only in letting go. We’ll never experience fully living again in giving up, only in letting go. Although you may not be at a place of ‘letting go’ yet, or these words might not express your experience, may this reflection cause you to take pause, if only for a moment, to reflect upon the difference between giving up and letting go in you and how both are expressed in / through you. May it serve you as well as it has served me.

Giving up implies a struggle…Letting go implies a partnership.

Giving up dreads the future…Letting go looks forward to the future.

Giving up lives out of fear…Letting go lives out of grace and trust.

Giving up is defeat…Letting go is a victory.

Giving up is unwillingly yielding to forces beyond oneself…Letting go is taking control by choosing to yield to forces beyond oneself.

Giving up believes that God and the Universe are to be feared…Letting go trusts in the goodness and love of God and the Universe.



Round Mountain Wild Fire, Colorado

Round Mountain Wild Fire, Colorado (Photo credit: Striking Photography by Bo ( Swamped))

This morning as I was listening to the news as I got ready for work, I was drawn out to the living room by a desperate and shaken voice. It was a woman from Colorado who had been required to leave her home with only a few minutes’ notice because of the wild fires. She told the reporter that she’d grabbed a few pieces of clothing, photos and her cats before fleeing. Her parting words were, “I don’t want to leave my home.”

Weather and natural disasters often cause losses that are difficult to deal with. We hear about the fatalities and secondarily about the displaced people who lose their homes. To me, home truly is where the heart is. My home is my center, my place of balance, safety, privacy, freedom of choice – all things I value highly. To imagine losing this place, with no notice, no opportunity to ingrain it in my memory, no chance to pack or sort or identify the important things versus the unimportant – it would be terrible.

Compounded by fear, uncertainty and emotion, the loss of a home is significant. It deserves attention and time to grieve. At Horizon recently, we’ve been discussing the idea of “home” a lot. What makes a home, what people (our patients, volunteers and staff) value in a home, how to find out what home means to others. I feel personally that the essence of home, no matter who you are, is security.

I send my thoughts to those who are suffering through the fires, and wish for them some sense of security, despite being forced from their physical homes.

The Cost of Care

In a meeting last week a colleague handed me an article written by a women who was shocked to discover the cost of care for her husband in his final weeks of life.  Her husband died of a cancer that was not curable.  From the article it appears that he had the best of care with nothing held back.  In hindsight the wife muses that wouldn’t it have been nice to spend that money to feed thousands of starving children.

The colleague gave me the article because I am in hospice and she felt that I would agree.  It was a compelling story and I pondered the author’s opinions for days.  I gathered my thoughts and observations and am sharing them with you today.

As Americans, we can be fiercely independent.  We want and demand the best in care.  We want it now, we expect it to be safe, and we believe in our chances for success.  Physicians are also Americans and they want the same things for themselves and their patients.  We are strong we are invincible and we succeed.

We also feel free to sue if things do not go as we expect.  Our television air waves are filled with lawyers suggesting that you sue for experimental treatments gone wrong, any kind of wound, or any imagined wrong.  It seems to be the American way.

We are a death denying society.  We willing admit that live is short, live it to the fullest, but we do not really think that death applies to us, at least not until we are over 90.

I do believe that end of life care is often provided in ICUs or expensive hospital beds when the location and level of care is futile, though I know first hand how difficult it is to tell families that it is time to seek hospice.  Not to do another scan.  Not to try another treatment.  People fly loved ones all over the country and world for experimental treatments on hope alone most times, even when they have experts in their own home town.

Is it possible to tell a patient and family no to another possible treatment when there is a 2% chance that it might work?  What if the chance is 5% or 10%?  We all hear about those miracle cases.  When is enough, enough?  We spend allot on care at the end-of-life because we have the tools.  Man will use the tools Man has.  Is it right?

I believe that we need to be honest with patients and families about the disease process and our current tools to deal with their disease.  We must, as providers, admit to what we can do and what we can not do.  We are not yet able to prevent death.  At some point all body systems will fail and we will not be able to forestall the inevitable.  I also believe that we need to use our expertise, experience, and wisdom to help our patients have the best death possible.  We help mothers and fathers bring babies into this world and we need to help patients and families leave this world with the same dignity and celebration of life.

Cover of "Daniel's Daughter"

Cover of Daniel’s Daughter

I watched the Hallmark Movie, Daniel’s Daughter, this past weekend. In the movie, Cate’s mother dies when she is around 9 years old. Almost immediately afterwards her father leaves her with relatives to explore work and promises that he’ll return. In his absence, he gives her a journal to write down everything that happens to her so he won’t miss a thing. However, life got the way and Cate’s father began to feel that he would disrupt his daughter’s life if he returned and therefore he stays disconnected from her until he dies. When Cate is around 30 years old, she receives notice that he has died and a request to bury his ashes next to his wife’s.

Cate expresses anger toward her deceased father because she interpreted his absence to mean that he did not love her. All she wanted during her childhood was her father to be present with her. She states that her whole life changed after the death of her mother because she lost her father as well. Although she learns from his dear friends that he never stopped loving her and was fearful of disrupting her life because he thought it was going so well, it was difficult for her to feel this. She stated that she has journals with information she wanted to share with her father but never got the chance.

This movie highlighted one deeply important truth. Children just need the adults in their life to be there for them. As adults we think security comes from money, a steady job, and a stable living situation. Children find security and stability in the adults in their life being present with them. Losing a parents is incredible difficult and emotional on children of all ages, but having the remaining parents disappear can be even more devastating because it appears to be outright rejection to that child. Sometimes the answer to a difficult situation appears too simple to work, but the answer really is play with your child, listen to them, cry with them, and just spend time with them. That’s what they’ll remember in the long run and that’s what they need to grow into healthy adults—they just need you!

We welcome back Pete Reinl, Director of Grief Support Services for Church and Chapel Funeral Homes as our guest blooger. Please enjoy Pete’s thoughts on surrendering to grief.

“You don’t heal from the loss of a loved one because time passes;

you heal because of what you do with the time”. 

– Carol Crandall


Healing doesn’t ‘just happen’ after the death of a loved one. And, quite frankly, “Time heals all wounds” is a myth ~ an illusion at best. Healing doesn’t wait on time; healing waits on our ‘welcome’ ~ our intention. Therein dwells the hard grief-work of surrender, acceptance and integration. As each person is unique, this work will be done in one’s own time, on one’s own personal journey, in one’s individual way, a step at a time. It’s only in doing this important work that eventually one can fully live again in new and changed ways. Here’s an example.

Gregory, whose wife Marie died a year and a half ago from a tragic accident, has been very active in engaging and facing his grief and assisting his teenage son in doing the same. For me, Gregory has been an inspiring example that healing can only happen when one finds the courage to move toward their grief rather than ignoring, denying or moving away from their grief. Gregory would be the first to tell you that he is not done grieving or healing, and perhaps may never be. But, as you read the e-mail below from Gregory, those of us who are grieving can take heart in knowing that authentic healing can happen if we are willing to do the hard grief-work of surrender, acceptance and integration – bit by bit, one step at a time, in our own way, choosing to fully live again. Thank you Gregory!

Sent: Thursday, May 10, 2012 9:21 AM
To: Undisclosed

Subject: Time to Let Go


Hello All,

It’s been over a year and a half now since Marie died.  I’ve had many ups and downs through my journey with grief.  I’ve now come to the crossroads that in order to continue my healing I need to start separating myself from Marie’s physical presence.  I treasure all the great times we had together and the wonderful memories of our life and raising Robert through the years.  But all the physical things around the house bring back too much pain.

In a moment of weakness I received a flyer for a neighborhood rummage sale last Sunday.  Marie organized the sale every year.  She loved doing it (I did not).  But Grandma offered to tend the sale so I thought why not – I’ll participate.  It’s been a whirlwind of gathering all “Marie’s stuff” together for the sale over the past 3 days.  Robert, our son, has been gathering his “little boy” toys, shirts/pants and grade school reading books as well.  We have a lot available including holiday decorations, scrapbooking, stationary, candles, kitchen items, cloths and size 8 shoes.

Stop by the one and only rummage sale I will ever do.  Our Subdivision Rummage Sale runs this Friday and Saturday 9:00 – 4:00.  Grandma will be helping out and Robert on Saturday.  Tell a friend or two as Marie had a lot of neat items.

Here’s to you Dear,


PS: Any money raised will go to Healing Hearts of Waukesha County, the grief support group that’s helping Robert and I live life again.

There are 16,000 homeless and penniless widows in Vrindavan, India who are forced to beg for money to live. Oprah’s Next Chapter, a TV show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, highlighted this plight on her series on India. Women gain status in India when they are married, but when their husbands die, they lose their status, sometimes even within their own family. Due to this, families, even their children, have a choice as to whether they will continue to support the woman.

Many widows who have been neglected by their families after their loss travel to Vrindavan where they beg for money, and have the option to go to an ashram each day to chant for several hours which will get them a cup of rice and a few rupees.

One woman is trying to change this. Dr. V. Mohini Giri’s Guild for Service, provides a safe haven, job training and dignity to more than 100 displaced women. You can read more: http://www.oprah.com/own-oprahs-next-chapter/An-Indian-Womans-Fight-for-Widows-Video#ixzz1tqHT5mbL.

It got me thinking about how in America the stigma of the term widow is not “in our faces” as much as it is in Vrindavan. But it still very much exists. Unfortunately, the term widow conjures up words like weak, vulnerable, childlike, frail, sexless, or a burden. It can also bring up the image of someone with a lot of money due to insurance claims, which can leave people vulnerable to being taken advantage of or easy targets for scammers.

Many widows find that their social system changes dramatically after a loss, losing their couple friends. Sometimes this happens because people think that widows are going to be going after their spouses and they risk putting their marriages in jeopardy. Other’s shy away, fearful that they could lose a spouse too and don’t want that reality in their face and so we isolate widows.

Status also changes in the United States. Many people feel that the highest status is being married, then being divorced, then single, and finally widowed. Imagine the shock, shame, embarrassment, and life adjustment that it requires to go from top status to bottom status.

This stigma is a stereotype due to the lack of understanding of how grief immensely affects people who lose their spouse. One thing we should know is that most of them don’t want to be called the dreaded “W” word—they’d much prefer single or to just tell you that they lost their spouse. Grief is incredibly difficult and losing a spouse is one of the most challenging loses to get through. What I’ve witnessed is that this group of people are the most resilient, strong, capable, honest, and loving people. They are also hurting immensely—beyond what words can describe—and they just need support and understanding.

We welcome back guest blogger Pete Reinl, Director of Grief Support Services at Church and Chapel Funeral Homes. This month, Pete encourages us to welcome breaks into our lives…

There’s nothing quite like taking a walk and breathing some fresh air after being confined in enclosed places for an entire day…Or, putting your feet up, enjoying a refreshment and watching a TV program after a long physical day of doing yard work and projects needing to be completed around the house…Or, at least for me, having a cup of coffee in a quiet space, candle lit, reading a good book, without any pressure of time constraints, on the very first morning of my first day off of the weekend. I value and badly need ‘breaks’ during the course of my day – during the course of my week.

The same can be true with those of us who are in the throes of doing – being immersed in – grief work. And, it’s true, grieving takes work and effort and intentionality especially if we want to heal. Someone recently said to me regarding their grief journey, “This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.” Make no mistake about it, grieving can be intense work. It’s okay and so very necessary for us to take breaks while we grieve. We cannot dwell on our sorrow every waking moment. Taking breaks doesn’t dishonor our loved one, nor does it equate to ‘forgetting’ our loved one. It does mean our body, our mind; our spirit needs some ‘fresh air’ to renew, to rejuvenate and to perhaps gain some new perspective.

Staying busy can be a form of taking a break. We need to keep a close eye on our busy-ness though, too often it’s easy to be soooo busy that we use it as a way to run from the necessary work of grieving. We hear it often from others, ‘just keep busy’ because if we do stay busy we can keep our minds off of our pain, our hurt, our fear. And while there may be some wisdom and gift in being busy, we need to honestly ‘check-in’ with ourselves regarding the level of our busy-ness and our motivation for staying busy. We also need to be aware of our substance use and/or abuse as we walk this path of grief. Sometimes we convince ourselves the over-consumption of substances (i.e. alcohol, drugs, food, etc.) can be a healthy way to take a break from our sorrow and pain. On the contrary, although seemingly attractive and easy, they provide an illusion of taking a break, and often result in leading us down an even more painful path.

Sometimes, it may mean giving ourselves a ‘push’, a nudge to allow ourselves to take a break. But it is really necessary and important for our physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing and energy to do so.  Go bowling. Be with friends who are easy to laugh with. Volunteer. Get lost in a book.  Start an art project. Watch a movie. Cook a meal for someone. Choose to do whatever a ‘break’ might look like for you – what looks to be most ‘inviting’ for you. Yep, it won’t be the same without your loved one. But, in all honesty, nothing (including you) will ever be the same without your loved one and taking a break isn’t about trying to recreate what once was. No matter the intensity of our pain and hurt, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to those that care about us, and to our loved one, to be about ‘living’ again.  Indeed, taking breaks helps us to do the necessary work of grief in a healthy way and gives us permission to live again in new and changed ways.