Good Grief

I am amazed at the response many well meaning people give a friend who has just lost a loved one. This was brought home to me again recently when a friend of mine, a woman in her late 50’s told us with tears in her eyes, that her mother had passed away that week. Another friend sitting with me immediately started in, “Your mother is in a better place. Where is your faith? Why are you crying? Your mother is finally free, She feels better now, etc. etc.” Quickly I stepped in and told our unhappy friend  it’s alright to grieve.  Even more, it’s a good thing to express  sadness at the death of a loved one. With that she turned to the critical woman and said, “I just miss her,” justifying her feelings.
What is it about death? Why do some people think that when a loved one is gone, even in death we won’t miss them and long for them to be here with us? The same woman who questioned the need for grief has a son who lives in another state. She tells me often how much she misses him, how much she looks forward to seeing him again. Did she shed tears when he left home? I don’t know. But it would be acceptable if she did. No one would question her faith. Faith in what?  That she will see him again?
I have faith  my husband is indeed in a better place, free of a body that no longer worked right for him. But I miss him everyday. Sometimes I cry when I think of him—even eight months after his death. Eight months really isn’t very long is it?  I hope nobody tells me I need to get a grip and get over it already.  (Over what, I wonder.)
I miss him even though Ill see him again someday. I will follow him. We all will eventually, but not now. And right now I miss the daily conversations, the sharing of ideas, the joy of sharing our lives. Don’t deny me the right to miss him, to grieve, to feel lonely sometimes. And don’t deny me the opportunity to talk about him and  smile and laugh at  good memories.  Death is a part of life. Let’s accept it for what it is.  My sadness doesn’t mean I don’t believe in life after this.  It means I don’t like this separation. It’s not a bad thing.  Try it! Let’s cry and laugh together.

Soon enough it will be your turn.

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The Art Collection

Several of the kids, plus spouses, grandkids, etc were here this weekend to celebrate their dad’s birthday. (Somebody had to eat the cake for him.) My son looked at the art work on the walls in our living room, kitchen and bedroom and he asked me about the art. “That’s an original and that’s an original, and that’s an original,” I told him pointing to five of the six pieces in the bedroom. And these are originals, and these are signed lithos, and. . .” I realized we have a really nice art collection in our modest little country house. It’s funny that after being surrounded by art his entire life growing up my son suddenly saw it with different eyes.
He commented on one of the pieces he’d always liked. I smiled,”That was the first nice piece we bought. We hadn’t been married long, we were in the middle of starting our own business, we had no money, and dad saw that hanging in a gallery. He had to have it. We made monthly payments on it for most of a year before we picked it up.”
“Why? Why did you buy it?” my son wanted to know. “Especially at that time when you had so many expenses and the kids coming along and so much to spend money on?”
I smiled, “Your dad liked beautiful things. He wasn’t extravagant in his life, but he wanted his home and family to be surrounded by beauty.”
I think about it. Without him I would never have bought some of our nicest things. I would have admired art but I wouldn’t have woken up to it every morning. And it wasn’t just art. The living room furniture he brought home twenty some years ago has a patina of age and hard use and it still enhances our home. The leather glows more than when it was new. It was the same with the vacations through Mexico and into Central America where we spent so many summers, the time and memory building he invested in the family. He wanted to do things right. He thought about what he wanted his life to be and he invested his time and money to make it happen. He loved books and we have hundreds of books, many signed by the author. Somehow the signature gave recognition and connection beyond picking up a book, reading and putting it down. It acknowledged the work that gave him pleasure. He read books on Kindle, we wrote books for Kindle, but he preferred the real thing. We collected beetles. Beetle collecting gave form and purpose to our vacations. It took us to strange and and wonderful places and it brought us together with interesting people. Our lives and our home were full.
I see so many things, so many memories when I look around that have enriched our family and our home and our lives. Are we wealthy? No. But we live in beauty.

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All We Have is Time

My husband and I came from very different backgrounds. I came from the classic 1950’s family. My mother was a stay at home mom. My dad worked an 8 to 4 job. We lived in company housing from the time I was born until I graduated from high school. We ate dinner together, we had family prayer, we attended church every Sunday. I was the fifth of seven kids. I really believed that everything my parents did was the way things should be done.
My husband came from a broken home. His mother married for the fifth time about the same time we got married. He used to joke that he gained weight in basic training because it was the first time in his life he got three meals a day. He loved the army because of the order it provided him, something he had never had in his life. He was the third of six children. His mother put his older brother up for adoption when the child was two years old. His younger brother died in a bathing accident when my husband was two. His mother told her children again and again that she could have done great things had she not been burdened with children. The way his mother lived became his negative example.
So when we married he was happy to look to my family as an example of how to do things. Except he had formed the habit of making his own decisions and choices about what worked and how life should be lived. My parents lived in the age of efficiency. When there were tasks to be done on a Saturday morning they divided their lists and one went one way and one went the other. Soon after we were married my husband pulled out a list of things we needed to do one afternoon. I looked over the list and said, “I can go to the bank while you go to the cleaners. You can. . .” He gave me a look that stopped me mid-sentence.
“Can’t we just go together?’
“But that’s not efficient,” I sputtered.
“Who cares? I’d rather run errands with you.”
Well who could argue with that? And so we started forming our own patterns, separate and different from those of our families. For forty years we did everything together. We worked together at the same schools, we played together. We shared hobbies, we wrote books, we traveled to interesting places near and far. My parents were fairly restrained in their expressions of affection, but my husband told me he loved me everyday. We raised 8 kids. And the kids went everywhere with us until they finally had to grow up and go to college and make patterns of their own.
And then my husband died. We were on vacation in Peru. Just the two of us. We were having a wonderful time. We had visited my sister and brother in Chile and nieces and nephews. We were headed back to Chile the next morning. But we didn’t make it.
We spent forty years with each other, together.
I couldn’t go with him this time and I miss him. And I am so glad he didn’t listen to me way back then.
Efficient don’t mean a thing.
Time is all we have.

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The widows and the fatherless

How often are the widows and the fatherless mentioned in scripture? Look out for those poor widows and judge the fatherless righteously. It’s there, over and over again.
Now I know who we are and why we need looking after. It isn’t just physical. It isn’t help with the bills at this house. It is spiritual and emotional and words I can’t even conjure up right now. It is hard.
I don’t want to pray right now. I don’t want to read my scriptures. Mike asked me to read the scriptures to him every night. And I did. He said we should set a time when we shut everything else down so we could read and talk. And we did. I don’t want to read without him. It’s an admission that he’s not here. I want him back.
I feel this wavering inside. And I know it’s false. I know what’s true and real for me, but it all shimmers without him to share it with. That’s crazy. It’s not what he would want, it’s not what I want. But I’m like a kid throwing a tantrum. I don’t care about rational. I want my husband back. Now. Not later. I don’t want my life to change. I liked it the way it was.
I was saying my prayers at bedtime. Thinking of the things of the day and I started talking to Mike. Then I started praying again, and I said I know I pray to you God, not to my husband, but I miss him so much. I want to talk to him tonight. And I realized I was a little upset with God. I don’t like his plan right now. I don’t like being alone in my house, not sleeping. I don’t like lonely and I don’t like worrying about the kids and why didn’t they see that life is serious and turn their lives around when their dad died? Why do I still have to worry about them too?
See what I mean? An emotional wreck. Look out for the poor widows. It’s not easy. And we put on our public face, we smile, but there is a big emptiness. The fatherless too. No wonder God tells us to judge these kids, big and small, with a righteous judgement. Maybe they do crazy things. They just lost their anchor. Give ’em some slack. Please. Just for awhile.
I don’t know how long that is. But fatherless doesn’t end very soon. Be patient with us. I’ll try to be patient with me too. And I’ll keep saying my prayers. It’s who I am.

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Daylight Savings? Isn’t there a better way??

Hooray, thank goodness for Arizona!  Daylight savings has come and nothing changes.  What are we saving with daylight savings?  Whatever it is we give it back in the fall.  But meanwhile the sun goes merrily on its way ignoring the clocks and their various settings.  The sun defiantly rises to the middle of the sky in the middle of the day no matter what hour we declare it noon.

And aren’t time zones political in nature?  Years ago when I flew regularly from Delhi to Karachi we all adjusted our watches by fifteen minutes, not marking our changed position on the earth’s surface, but marking the importance of political borders. There is still a fifteen minute time difference between India and Nepal.  Newfoundland is a half hour off from the Canadian mainland, but the French islands of St Pierre and Miquelon in exactly the same longitude are in the same time zone as France. Solidarity!

China and India have only one time zone.  Hmmm.  I wonder what the sun has to say about that.  Russia stays on Daylight time year round, trying to keep ahead of the sun.  Chile while lying directly under New York shares a time zone with western Greenland.  Argentina shares a time zone with easternmost Brazil even though Brazil juts far into the Atlantic.  And of course Hugo Chavez gave Venezuela its own time zone so that he would not have to share the sunshine with the United States!

Even in Arizona time zones can get hinky.  We share the same time with the Pacific zone for part of the year and with the Mountain States for the remainder of the year.  But the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona does change its clocks for daylight savings.  If you live on the edge of the reservation you may be constantly juggling your watch.

Why daylight savings at all I ask myself?  Why four time zones?  Arizona is able to live well in two time zones year round without touching the clock.  Why not combine Pacific and Mountain time by allowing Utah to stay on Standard Time year round and California to stay on Daylight  time?  (With their adjoining states of course!)  And if it works well in the west, why not combine Central and Eastern time in the same way?  That might mean there would be a two hour time difference between the two zones but it should beat the three hour difference we have now with four zones.

I think this is a perfectly reasonable and logical suggestion.  And it would make it easier to call my grandkids in California and New York at any time of the year.  Don’t worry.  The sun will figure it out and go on its rounds as if nothing had changed at all!

 

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Six word sentences

Oh my, I just came across this, written last year.  My husband and I were having fun.  How time flies!

Hi Janelle, this is your sis.

We cleaned the book room yesterday.

Mike found his sixtieth birthday book.

He read it again, every word.

All our converstions have six words.

It’s so great to be sixty!

You should only use five . . .

That’s what 50 is like.

But, you’ll never see 50 again.

Life keeps getting better and better.

Does your body ache all over?

Oh, it will–I promise you.

Soon you’ll need large print documents.

Bifocals may soon follow; so sorry.

Hair color fades, facia hair sprouts.

And your hearing? What about that?

Well, we’ve had lots of fun.

Now I will give you a message:

In just 25 words or less:

“These things are important: marriage,
mission, college. Press on, set goals,
write history, take pictures twice a year.”

Hope you all enjoyed General Conference!!

Enough already. Have a great night.

Mike and Karen

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Let Them Eat Bulgar

When God told Joseph, “Wheat is for man,” He wasn’t talking about Wonder Bread or pasta or boxed cake mixes  or even chocolate chip cookies. Sorry, it’s true, I’m pretty sure about this. He said wheat, not white flour. Not that white powder without even the germ in it. And there is a difference.  Whole wheat is one of the healthiest foods available, but when you sand of the outer coating,remove the bran, and take out the germ with its essential oil you don’t have much left–60% of the kernel has been removed, including half or more of the original amounts of B1, B2, B3, vitamin E,  folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron and fiber. No wonder people are looking for gluten free–white flour is almost wheat free!
So what’s so good about whole wheat?  Let’s start with the important stats.  Women who eat whole grains, including whole wheat weigh less statistically than their more refined sisters. Remember, it’s not carbohydrates we want to avoid, it’s refined carbs. But how to add whole wheat to your daily diet? Eating whole wheat flour can be a hard adjustment, requires some modification of the recipes you’ve been using, tastes different than what you’re used to. So I suggest you begin your adventure in whole wheat by adding bulgar to your mornings.
I began eating bulgar for breakfast when we lived on the Navajo reservation more than thirty-five years ago. I would put a cup of whole wheat in the crock pot, add 3 cups of water and leave it overnight. In the morning the wheat had swollen up into round ball bearings. I served it with milk and honey. And I discovered that I really liked it. I didn’t start cooking wheat as a health food. I started because it was convenient. I lived a long way for a supermarket. Corn flakes were expensive at the trading post, and I had a can of wheat someone had given me. Voila. The benefits? I used to say I could eat whatever I wanted all day long. I never gained weight. My body regulated itself.                                And yes, I was never constipated. But there were even better side effects. Through eleven pregnancies I never suffered from morning sickness. I had easy pregnancies and easy deliveries. I was full of energy and I didn’t suffer from PMS or monthly migraines—until I abandoned bulgar for the all American diet many years later.

Why attribute my good fortune to whole wheat and not just excellent genes? Well, for one thing, when I did abandon bulgar I turned my life around. I gained weight and at one point was even diagnosed as pre-diabetic. And yes, the symptoms of PMS and depression raised their ugly head (or is it heads?).
What is it that makes whole wheat a wonder food, you wonder? Whole wheat is  one of the world’s healthiest foods containing all the necessary nutrients for weight and mood control. But no, it should not make up your entire diet and it should not be considered a panacea. It should just be an important component.
-For the potential pre-diabetic whole grains are high in cereal fiber and have a low glycemic index. They are absorbed slowly through the intestine allowing the body to respond without spiking insulin levels. But that is just the beginning.
-Whole wheat is a great source of magnesium. Low magnesium is one of the villains in PMS, the villain in leg cramps. Magnesium should be your best friend. It interacts with more than 300 enzymes in the body including enzymes involved in the use of glucose and insulin secretion. (diabetes anyone?)  And yes, there is a correlation  between low magnesium levels and type 2 diabetes.
-What about energy? Whole wheat is a source of betaine (a metabolite of choline) which helps control internal inflammation. Think arthritis, stiff painful joints, etc. Lower inflammation levels mean higher energy levels and perhaps lower tumor ratios. Certainly worth a try.
-Thel fiber in whole wheat speeds intestinal transit time, reduces bile acid secretions, increases insulin sensitivity, and lowers triglycerides (fatty acids). I was going to say, See, no constipation, but it is so much more than that!
-And what about cancer? Wheat bran accelerates the metabolism of estrogen. This means decreased blood estrogen levels, better regulated hormones, and lower risk of breast cancer. Wheat bran (but not corn or oat bran) has also been linked to a lower risk of colon cancers by reducing the concentration of bile acids and bacterial enzymes that promote colon cancer.
-The wheat germ that’s removed from refined flour is also a great source of phytochemicals–the antioxidants we hear so much about in chocolate for example. And wheat germ is rich in vitamin E which is important for immune system function, cancer prevention and blood glucose control. There it is again!
Whole wheat is low in fat, has no cholesterol and very little sodium. One cup of whole wheat flour has about 130 mg of potassium and 13 grams of protein. It contains calcium, magnesium and iron, and is a good source of vitamin B6.
There’s more. Much more, but for now, why not give it a try. Eat good, feel good, and best of all, bulgar tastes good!

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Six months

Six months. Where did they go? It has been the longest and the shortest six months in my life. Six months since my husband died. Forty years together, you don’t adjust to losing that overnight. But it literally happened overnight.
So how to adjust? Can I adjust? He’s here everyday–I pass everything by him. In my mind. Oh, he would like the new bathroom. He would be very pleased with the refi on the house. 3.12%, what’s not to like! The new car? He would never have traded in the Yukon, but I can’t drive the Yukon. I had to get something else. He’s okay with that.
He’d tell me it’s time. Make plans, get out of the house. Travel if you want to. Visit the kids. I will one of these days. Clean out the closets, give the clothes to people who need them, he tells me. He wasn’t sentimental about stuff, not most stuff. Me, I have trouble throwing away his school papers from his days as a principal. I do it a little at a time. One of these days I want to fit a car in the garage again.
I make to-do lists. I think of things in the middle of the night and write them down. But when I look at the list I put off getting started on this or that.
I sleep on my side of the bed. I read until two in the morning. I finally fall asleep and I wake up when the sunlight hits the window.
Things are not the same.
Big things,
little things.
Me.

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Family History and Veteran’s Day

My late husband was a Vietnam Vet who always honored Veteran’s Day. So I thought I’d remember today with a post.
World War I ended officially on November 11, 1918 at 11:00 AM. Armistice Day was established on November 11 to honor those who died in the War to End All Wars. When I was little my parent’s still referred to Armistice Day. Unfortunately more wars followed and the day was renamed Veteran’s Day in the US. Fortunately Veteran’s Day is still celebrated on November 11th rather than the closest Monday. Some things are more important than three day weekends.

My sister-in-law from Canada sent me a packet of red poppies to wear and share today. (I noticed Will and Kate are wearing the identical poppies this week per on-line photos). Wearing poppies on Remembrance Day is still a tradition in Great Britain and Canada; it is an old tradition, dating back to well before the First World War.

My great-great grandmother, Sarah Bardell Hunt was born in 1804 in Derbyshire, England. She emigrated to America in 1864 as a sixty year old widow, traveled up through Canada and down to Missouri where she crossed the plains by covered wagon. She spent the last third of her life in south central Utah.
From Sarah Bardell Hunt’s biography written by her children and grandchildren I found the following”

“. . .in England Grandmother Hunt had seen peonies and had loved them as her favorite flower. (In England the peony is regarded highly as a medicinal herb.) There were none of them in this country in those days, but we all knew she loved ‘pinies’ as she called them, and she always wore a small red peony at both sides of her bonnet. Sarah Bardell Hunt made many hooked rugs in her later years. She used rags cut about one inch wide, and these were pulled into loops through a burlap sack with the use of a large wooden hook. Whenever she made a hooked rug she always fashioned a big red flower which she called in her quaint English a ‘piny’. So even though she died long ago, some of her descendants have always made sure that each Decoration Day there is al least one red peony placed on her grave.” She died August 1, 1894 at ninety one years old. Most of her descendants no longer remember her love of peonies or place the red flowers on her grave. But it was a beautiful tradition.

Today I am wearing a red poppy in remembrance of our veteran’s and my husband and all those who have gone before us. Perhaps this lovely, visual tradition can be reborn here in the United States!

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Death, Ritual and the Funeral

It has been two months and ten days since my husband died. In five more days it will be two months since his funeral. When he died unexpectedly in Lima, Peru I was asked over and over again why I didn’t have him cremated and take his remains home in an urn. I never considered that idea. I had eight grown children at home who, in my mind at least, needed to see their father in his coffin and have an opportunity to say their goodbyes. And I am glad that I brought him home and that we had a funeral. As hard as it was it would have been unimaginably harder without a funeral.
Why?
As someone once said, “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” What are rituals? Rituals are prescribed or established ceremonies, proceedings or services. But they are more than that; rituals are important and symbolic acts that give meaning to the incomprehensible and bring closure and healing. Rituals are symbolic events that help us express our deepest thoughts and feelings about life’s most important events. It is because of their symbolic nature that rituals endure.
So what is it that a funeral offers to the bereaved? Let me tell you what it meant to me. First, I cannot imagine having arrived home where I was met at the airport by six of my children plus spouses and grandchildren with nothing more to offer than, “Yep, dad died in Peru.”
The funeral provided a public, traditional and symbolic way to express our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of our husband/father/friend. The funeral ceremony helped us *acknowledge the reality of his death and *share memories of his life. It encouraged the expression of *grief in a way consistent within our culture, *provided support to mourners inside and outside the family, *reinforced our beliefs about faith, life, and death, and *offered continuity and hope for the living. If this is what a funeral is supposed to do I believe my husband’s funeral was a real success.
*Acknowledge the reality of the death: Because we were so far away from family and friends when my husband died it was hard for those back home to mentally or emotionally accept the fact that Mike was dead. It was hard for me to acknowledge death’s reality, and I was right there. Up until the funeral we could in many ways deny this new reality to ourselves. My daughter who flew to Peru and was tasked with speaking with the coroner and identifying her father’s body in the morgue had a much more abrupt introduction to the reality of death. So did my son who worked with the mortuary in Arizona and accompanied the body from the airport to Nogales.
Those who had not seen their father needed an opportunity to say goodbye. Those of us who had dealt directly with his death needed a more supportive opportunity to say goodbye.
*Embrace the pain of the loss: As the understanding of what we’d lost moved from mental to emotional understanding the pain became very real. The funeral allowed those who loved Mike to grieve publicly without reproof. The funeral forced us to concentrate on our feelings of love and loss—painful feelings—and we could express those feelings without being asked to intellectualize or distance ourselves from the pain of our grief. The funeral may be for many people the only time and place where an open expression of sadness is not frowned on to some degree. But grieving is a good and natural part of loss, an acknowledgement of how much we love and will miss the one who is gone. Let us grieve.
*Remember the one who died: Part of acceptance is shifting our relationship from one of physical presence to one of memory. My oldest daughter delivered the eulogy for her father. She had to think about his life and distill those important pieces she would share. I asked all my children to speak at the funeral, to plan on three to five minutes and share memories specific to them and their father. I suggested that they not say, “My dad was the greatest, smartest, strongest, whatever,” but to think of specific events, moments, and actions that would illustrate what they wanted to say. It was not easy, but it helped each of us as we shifted our thoughts from the present loss to wonderful memories we all shared.
We also went through the tens of thousands of photos I have on the computer searching for just the right images to express who our husband/father was. We printed more than a dozen photos as 16 x 20 inch posters and put them up on easles in the front of the church, on the tables with the flowers and next to the pulpit. Looking at hundreds of pictures brought back many more memories than those contained in the photos we printed and displayed. And the posters added another dimension to the service.
Of course there were many more people with us than just immediate family. All seven of my brothers and sisters were there along with nieces and nephews. Neighbors, friends and members of our church were in attendance. They too had memories to share. The night before the funeral we held a dinner for the family with about sixty people in attendance. Part way through dinner my brother-in-law suggested we all share something we remembered about Mike. We shared, we laughed, and we embedded those happy memories into our own memories.
*Acknowledge our changed relationships: In Peru our taxi driver helped us in countless ways. I remember clearly a phone call he made for me to the detective assigned to investigate my husband’s cause of death. The detective asked Luis who he was and why he was calling. He replied, “I am a friend of the widow.” I physically pulled back from that title. It was not a part of my identity. I recognized my roles as daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend. There was no room for ‘widow’ in my understanding of who I am.
But the funeral allowed not only me but my family and friends to accept a new reality, to accept a new identity, a new role. Those attending the funeral affirm and acknowledge the changed identity and let us know they still love and care about us.
*Search for meaning: Death brings many questions. Why? Why now? Why here? Why did you leave me? How will I go on by myself? Will we be together again? Why didn’t I do more? How could I have prevented this? I think there is a lot of irrational guilt immediately following a death, but that too is a part of the search for understanding. And we have to figure out why we should go on living before we can address how we’ll go on. The funeral does not answer all our questions but it does give expression to some of them, giving us the opportunity to mentally and emotionally reconcile some of those questions and to leave others behind. The funeral gives meaning to life and death making our own future death a reality. At the funeral we are able to express our beliefs and values about life and death. The funeral affirms that death is an important part of life for us and this is as it should be. This was brought home forcefully to me when my aunt died and my cousins had no funeral, no burial, no announcement. When her younger sister called to tell me Tui had died I asked for the funeral details. Meryl sadly told me that Tui had died weeks earlier but she had just learned of her death. What a stark and cold message.
*Receive support from others: Funerals are designed so that family and friends can offer and receive support. At the funeral we hugged, we touched, we offered comfort. Walking on the arm of the Army Sergeant who presented me with my husband’s folded flag at the cemetery, I felt a sense of strength and continuity. Holding hands, embracing and being embraced by good friends said “Life goes on. We are here to support you.”
Finally for those of you who have not suffered a personal loss, your physical presence at the funeral is an important show of support to the living. Several friends told me it was too difficult emotionally for them to attend the funeral. Don’t say that to the widow. If I could be there to fill my assigned role and show my love for my husband I had little patience with those who told me it was too difficult for them to attend. Attend the funeral. Cry, be emotional. Let those you love know they are not alone in their grief. Hold on to your memories and go on with life.

(Thank you toAlan D Wolfelt for his excellent article on the funeral ritual in GriefWords. His six points served as the outline for much of what I wanted to express.)

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