Today, I heard again the Christmas song about the little boy who’s mother is dying on Christmas eve and he wants to buy her shoes to wear as she goes into heaven.  He doesn’t have enough money to buy the shoes and a person in line gives him the money he needs.  It’s never been my favorite Christmas song because of the obvious sentimentality.  The song was never realistic to me.  Yet, it deliberately strokes my heart strings with grief and sorrow.

However, I heard it in the context of a devotion by a pastor who shared the song.  He spoke about his wife who died of cancer when his two daughters were teenagers.  Unashamed, the Man of God cried as he read the words, remembering the first Christmas his daughters experienced without their mother.

Many people who are intellectually disabled come perplexed to the crossroads of Christmas with mixed emotions.  During this time, why struggle to walk in joy when it seems easier to become swallowed by grief? We must not forget that people who are mentally challenged may not have the cognitive ability or possess the navigational tools which help them to choose the joyful paths which help them experience peace as they remember loved ones lost through death or separation.

Distraction may be the best way to redirect their thoughts.  However, I try always to pray out loud for our members who are grieving during this time.  A hug and quick prayer for them works miracles.  The prayer I often pray is, “Father, bless my good friend as she grieves for her loss.  Help her to remember that her loved one is no longer in need of prayer.  Let her find your peace for today and for the rest of this joyful time.”  As I release them from the hug, I smile and encourage my member to also smile.

Does it always work?  Nope.  But at least he knows that God and I love him and God cares enough to take time to hear his prayer.  That is, of course, the work God has called us to to do.  What is something that you use to help your members who are grieving during Christmas?

Linda G. Howard

This is my opinion and reaction alone.  It does not reflect the opinions of Special Gathering or any other staff member or volunteer.

Since sarcasm is a staple in the life of my family, here are 11 reasons to NOT evacuate when a life-threatening storm is approaching.  I’ve had plenty of experience to accumulate reasons over the 45 years we’ve lived in a beach community.

I live in Florida on an island about a half mile from the ocean and 1 and 1/2 miles from the inlet waterway.  My family and I have faced repeated evacuations.  When our children were younger, we told them that they could bring one thing with them that they could not live without.  We had a hurricane box with needed supplies and food for a week.  We learned to pack a week of clothing in about five minutes.  We had a big supply of candles and a gas lantern.  We left our home at the first call for evacuation, long before the traffic jams or mandatory evacuation orders were given and house to house searches were performed by the police.

Each year, many others stay on the island.  Therefore, I’ve heard all the excuses for not leaving.  However, I’ve accumulated 11 reasons that I believe motivate people to stay in dangerous places.

  1. I have a death wish for myself and my family.
  2. Because I enjoy watching my home burn down to the ground should there be a gas leak that would cause a fire near my home, I won’t leave.  I know that 40 mile-an-hour winds cause fires to spread.  Yet, I assume that my life is The Great Exception and my home won’t burn down like the house down the street.
  3. Because I am much larger than my 1,500 square-foot house, I must stay to protect it.
  4. The possibility of losing my roof is common; but it certainly will not happen to me or my house.
  5. I am a thrill seeker and risking my life is the biggest thrill of a lifetime.  Riding a roller coaster is a small thrill. Watching trees fall onto my roof and trying to dodge broken glass is much more exciting.
  6. I am an intelligent person; but I am stupid when it comes to common sense involving my life and limbs.
  7. I truly believe that I am the strongest person who ever lived. I am much stronger than any storm a hundred mile wide pounding 90 mile-per-hour winds for 12 to 14 hours.
  8. Should I have to be rescued, I enjoy putting other people’s lives at risk.
  9. While I’m the first person to give lip-service to the heroes in my community,  I do not truly value the lives of our firemen and police officers.  Therefore, I will happily put their lives at risk so that they can rescue me in the middle of the storm.
  10. I can use my beloved pets as an excuse for my fool-hearty actions for facing dangerous, devastating conditions.
  11. The fact that I can take my pets with me and deliver them from danger does not make sense to me.  Even though almost all hotels will waive their restrictions on pets and keeping a pet safely in a car makes more sense than putting their lives in danger, they are such a convenient excuse why not use it and put their lives in danger also?

Of course, there are exceptional circumstances.  During Sandy, the floods were higher than predicted.  Yet, people who lived on these islands did not leave until their homes, clothes, shoes and outerwear were underwater.  They have not coats, food or water.  It is sadder than anyone can imagine.

However, when devastation can be seen approaching, isn’t it common sense to simply pack a bag and leave?

It is probably true that you will be asked to do a funeral for one of your members at some time in your ministry.  There are specific things which I have observed from pastors who are successfully able to capture the essence of the person and still glorify Christ in a funeral sermon or eulogy.  Here are some of those things which you may find helpful.

  1. First, find a hook.  This is something about the person that seems to embody their personality or mission in life.  It may be a phrase, a sentence or an observation.  Most often this should come from the family.  In trying to find a hook for one man that I had never met, every person I spoke to said, “He was a good man.”  I kept trying to find something else about this man until I realized:  This was a truly good man and that was what family wanted to said about him.
  2. Interview as many members of the family as possible to be able to grasp what is meaningful to them.  Ask probing questions.   What is the thing you remember most about Phil?  What did he do during his free time?  Tell me a little bit about his life.  When did he become a Christian?
  3. Everyone has some humor in his or her life.  Try to find it and use it.
  4. The deepest, most moving memories are best wrapped with a glimmer of humor, if possible.
  5. Don’t be afraid to share deeply personal things that the family has given you permission to share.  This is a time for them to hear their words echoing back to them in a positive message of hope.
  6. If the person is not a Christian, amplify some good traits.  Then emphasis that if she could stand before you today, she would want each person present to know Christ.  We know this is a true statement without saying things which are not true.
  7. Use a Thesaurus in finding different words to express what you want to say.  Don’t limit yourself or your imagination in your sentence structure or your vocabulary.
  8. Use Scriptures to say the things you desire to say about the resurrection.  Then don’t forget to speak about the hope of the resurrection of Christ in each sermon or eulogy.  That, after all, is why we have sermons at funerals.
  9. Keep it short.  Limit yourself to a maximum of 10 minutes of sermon.  I also try to limit the Scripture readings to five to 10 minutes.  Intersperse the Scriptures throughout the service.  Find my favorite Scriptures here.  

Remember, above all, you are speaking the heart of the family and the heart of Christ.  When the two are in harmony, it’s a wonderful union.  When they are divergent, God will help you to find ways to honor both.

God loves the broken hearted and desires to heal those who grieve.  It is a wonderful opportunity to show the love of Christ to people who are wounded and hurting.

If you are sharing with a family of a mentally challenged person who has died, this is especially important to remember and acknowledge their grief.  God wants to touch this family in a real way and you can be His instrument.

Here is a eulogy that hopefully will help you to see how these steps can be put together.

Eulogy

Leslie Ann 

          The Apostle Paul writes in the Holy Scriptures that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Proverbs reminds us that a merry heart is as good as any medicine.  On December 19, 1972, God gave to us an ambassador of laugher and giggles when Leslie Ann  was born to Priscilla.

Raised in a strong Catholic family, faith and commitment to the Lord were the backbone of her existence.  As a natural outgrowth of that love for the Lord, her first communion was a joyous time shared with her mother, grandparents, her Uncle Jack, his two children and the community of believers.

Later, as Leslie matured into adulthood, reaching out became an anchor of her commitment to the Lord as she endeavored to share her faith.  Each Christmas at Special Gathering, we collect gifts for the Haitian children.  Leslie was the first one to bring her gifts.  But she didn’t stop there.  Sunday after Sunday, she would bring toys and school supplies for the young children who have so little.

Of course, Leslie understood the value of money.  The best presents she received were always money or gift cards.  No birthday was complete without a card filled with big bucks. Yet, she never totally comprehended the complete concept.  After obtaining her first job came the wondrous first paycheck.  Excited by this new found wealth, Leslie wanted to put it in the bank as the first installment toward buying a new Corvette.  Somehow the fact that it was only $4 escaped this young financier.

Leslie had a knack for remembering names and addresses. She remembered the full name of everyone she met.  But phone numbers were her specialty.  She spent hours on the phone with her various boyfriends.  Mark from New Jersey was her first real boyfriend.  For more than ten years, they conversed every evening until it was time for them to go to bed.  Last July, when Leslie and her mother went back to Jersey, Mark begged them to come back in the spring because he needed a date to the prom.  “You know my girl’s down there with you,” Mark told Priscilla pensively.

Though she seldom complained, at times her disability would hinder her from doing the fun activities that the other family members enjoyed.  One day, Elaine, her step-sister-in-law, could no longer take her mournful expression as the other young adults scooted around on jet skis.

“I’ll take you,” Elaine volunteered.  Leslie was in her mid-twenties but not too old to giggle.  Unfortunately, in her enthusiasm, Leslie leaned too far and tipped over the jet ski.  In an effort to save herself, Leslie quickly grasped the closest thing to her–which was Elaine’s throat.

Her mother was following her in a boat.  She and the driver of the boat scooped Leslie up from the water within a few seconds.  And Elaine is still thankful.

Leslie never liked being left behind.  And she didn’t like losing when she played games.  After her great nephew, Colin, was born, she would spend hours coloring and playing games with him.  He was her little buddy.  But her competitive nature didn’t die easily and she didn’t enjoy losing, even to him.

Vincent, Colin’s dad and her cousin, was two years younger than she.  He, naturally, was her big buddy.  As children the cousins etched together a life-long bond.  They spent hours building towers with blocks.  After the construction was felled, they would head for the hallway and a ball game.  For Leslie, the fun with Vincent was never in the game or the competition but in the giggling.

About ten years ago, after moving from Jersey, Leslie began attending Special Gathering.  Later, she joined the choir. Her commitment to the choir was remarkable and we came to lean heavily on her strong–though never pitch-perfect–voice.

Every Saturday evening, she’d ask her mom, “Do I need to wear my choir uniform to Special Gathering?”  Her mom would explain that the choir wasn’t singing at another church, only practicing.  “Are you sure?”  Leslie would enquire suspiciously.

One of Leslie’s favorite songs was a selection from our choir.  Often before practice, we would sing it as our prayer.

Change my heart, Oh, God.

Make it ever true

Change my heart, Oh, God,

May I be like you.

 You are the potter, I am the clay

Mold me and make me.

This is what I pray.

Change my heart, Oh, God.

Make it ever true.

Change my heart, Oh, God.

May I be like you

As Leslie slipped into eternity last Saturday, I believe she met the Lord giggling.  You see, her disability and pains are gone.  She isn‘t hurting or afraid anymore.  (show the crystal bowl and the paper cup)

On the Friday evening that Leslie was admitted to the hospital, she was in agonizing pain.  Her stomach had ripped and her lungs were full of pneumonia.  She would code three times before they could get her into surgery.  Fighting frantically to save her life, the technician began taking X-rays.  Explaining to her what they were doing, the tech said, “We are going to hold up this piece of metal and take your picture.”

Leslie weakly nodded her understanding.  As the technician put up the metal sheet to her chest, ready to click the X-ray, Leslie said, “Cheese” and grinned for the picture.  With each X-ray she said, “Cheese” and smiled.  As we remember Christ’s ambassador of giggles, we cannot weep for her, though we will often shed tears for ourselves.  She would demand that we gratefully grin and say, “Cheese.”

A few days ago a Special Gathering volunteer came to me and said, “I believe that the Lord has shown me that to help Valerie, I must simply love her.  She is hurting and that is why she is so impossible to everyone.”  It’s true.  Varerie has recently lost her mother and father who were extremely protective of her.  Her sisters have resented her because of the attention she received most of over their lives; and Valerie is no longer welcomed to be with their families.  For several years, she was living in her own apartment but medical and behavioral issues forced her to move into a group home.

The staff at her new home is loving and cares deeply about Valerie.  Yet, her bossy attitude keeps everyone stirring in anger and confusion.  Each time we have Special Gathering, the residents emerge from the bus in an annoyed state, pushing and pulling of each other’s emotions.  Even some of the members of SpG are effected.  This volunteer notices the confusion that Valerie engenders.

There are so many people who are wounded that know no other reaction other than lashing out to wound others.  Is the answer as simple as what the volunteer said.  Can love simply work to heal hurts?  The answer is yes but there must also be discipline.  When Valerie decided to cause a stir later that day, the wise volunteer stepped in and firmly but gently disciplined her.  Then she hugged Valerie.

Love is training our members into truth.  In Titus, Paul wrote to a young pastor and told him to train his congregants in truth.  Paul advised him that we must love enough to disciple.  There must be a balance even for those who are wounded.  We must help the wounded by reaching out in gentle love.  Yet, when needed, we should also touch with grace and discipline with godly mercy.
Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/simplelife/2012/04/helping-the-wounded.html#ixzz1sRf8BEln

This morning the Shuttle Discovery left Kennedy Space Center, riding piggy back on a 747 airplane.  I was totally unprepared for my own reaction.  This final flight means the space program is officially over for the US.

As the shuttle passed over our home, I cried.  It was as though I was losing another part of my husband, who worked for NASA for 45 years.

The grieving cycle fascinates me.  I’ve studied it for years and tried to understand the process.  During this past year, I’ve found myself marveling at my reaction to my own grieving.  I cry at the most unexpected times and for the most fascinating reasons.  On Resurrection Day, I cried because I realized that this would be my husband’s first time to celebrate this day in heaven.

Later in the day, I cried because I no longer have to be worried about him.  For seven years, each time I left the house, I prepared myself to find him dead when I came home.  This was a sub-conscious reaction but it was extremely real.  On our anniversary, earlier this year, I cried because I was so angry that he died a few months before our 50th anniversary.  Silly, of course.  But a reality.

During the years my husband was ill, I continued to work.  For five years, I did a daily blog.  Even during the 9 months that he was dying, I continued the grind.  Since Christmas of 2011, I have not been able to keep up the schedule of blogging each day.

For about a month, I fretted about my failure to do the work that I’d committed myself to do.  A couple of weeks ago, I realized that this is probably another result of my grieving.  During Frank’s sickness, I continued to continue.  Now, physical tiredness has caught up with me.  I am simply tired.

“I wonder how I was Frank’s full-time caregiver and I still worked full-time,” I said to a partner in ministry a couple of weeks ago.  “I can’t get my work done; and I don’t have the extra stress of taking care of my husband.”  Verbalizing my inability to do the work helped me to pick up the issue, hold it to the light and examine it in a realistic way.

I’m swimming through another grieving level.  This one is physical exhaustion.  Each evening, I feel like collapsing rather picking up another project or turning on the computer to write.

There are times we are simply tired.  Your reason may not be grief but some other concern.  Perhaps this is God’s cue to you that it’s time for you to trim back and rest.

The week before Christmas and the next two weeks have always been a bit of whirlwind for our family.  We celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Day heartily.  Additionally, there are three birthdays and three wedding anniversaries crammed into those short weeks.

January 7 would have marked my husband’s and my 50th wedding anniversary.  But he tricked the family and died on May 10, 2011, avoiding a large party.  The children and I were trying to sort through how to make an 50th anniversary party work with my husband very sick, limited mobility and basically no desire for a big party.  He solved the issue.

It seems selfish to feel a bit of disappointment that we didn’t make our 50th wedding anniversary because it is certainly true that I’m very happy that my husband is no longer suffering.  But for me our anniversary date was accented with the first full day of deep regrets since he died.

Ours wasn’t a perfect marriage.  We’ve been told by several newlywed couples that Frank and I could learn a great deal about marriage by watching how they interact.  There were many days of self-made trauma and conflict.  While he did things that annoyed me and bruised my spirit, I never doubted his love.  Yet, because of his own childhood and deep insecurities, he was never able to fully accept mine.

Now, I know that he is healed and not hurting.  That makes me happy.  Of course, the party is over but a new page is beginning for both of us.  And it is good.

This is a post that I shared two years ago.  Because the question is often Googled, I thought this could be a good time to review it.

Yesterday I received a phone call from an adult day program.  A family had called the workshop inquiring how they would tell their sibling who is mentally challenged that their mother had died.  When I realized that the developmentally disabled person was a member, I called the family.  We had a short talk regarding this dilemma.  Later in the day, on the Google search menu, there was the question again.  “How to explain a parent’s death to a mentally challenged person?”

Because several times I’ve been asked this question and it was come up about a dozen times in Google searches, I thought it would be a good thing to attempt to explain.  Of course, every family is different and you will need to use your own good judgment.  What I tell you may not be right for you and your situation.

I am not a grief counselor and I don’t claim to be.  However, in the years I’ve worked with this population, I’ve seen some things that seem to work and some things that only prolong the sorrow.  There are several suggestions that I’ve heard that I believe are not the correct way to handle the situation.  Perhaps the most egregious way would be to ignore the event or remove the mentally challenged person from the home during this grieving time without allowing them to grieve also.

Many years ago, Shiela’s mother died.  She had been in the hospital for months.  The entire family came for her last hours.  A well-meaning friend told the siblings and father, “Don’t tell Shiela.  She will never know.  Let someone else keep her during the funeral.  Don’t upset her by letting her know what is happening.”

The day of the funeral I received a call for the workshop and I was asked to visit Shiela.  She was sitting in the corner by herself.  I went up to her and found her crying.  I pulled up a chair next to hers.  Understanding the family’s wishes, I knew I had to tread carefully and watch what I said, “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My mother died.  The whole family is at my house and I’m not there,” she told me.  “I want to be with my family.”

For about an hour, we walked and talked together.  Not wanting to break the confidence of the family, I said nothing, only listened.  Though a lower functioning individual, Shiela knew and understood exactly what was happening.  She was confused and hurt that her family had excluded her from the sorrow of her mother’s death and the comforting joy of being with the whole family during this time of hurt and pain.  My coming and allowing her to share her sorrow brought a great deal of release for her.

Another suggestion given to a family was:  Take George to the funeral home.  Show him his mother and tell him that she is sleeping and she won’t ever wake up.  In my opinion, this could be a traumatic thing to tell any person.  Can you imagine how frightening that would be to a person with a limited understanding?  He or she would never want to go to sleep again for fear that s/he may not ever wake up.

Again, I’m not an expert in these matters.  However, I believe that a simple and direct explanation of what has happened could be the most beneficial and healing method.  If the mother was a Christian, you could say something like this, “Sally, you know your mother was very sick.  Last night at 10:30pm, she died. (Giving a date and time can give Sally some concrete evidence to mark the event.)  The Lord always knows what is best for all of us and He knew it was the right time for her to die.

“You will be very sad for a long time and that is all right.  But remember we aren’t to be sad for your mother.  She is in heaven with Jesus.  She is well and not hurting any more.  She is happy and she wants you to be happy too.  Yes, you are going to miss her.”

Then remind Sally of some silly thing that her mother did.  Encourage her to smile and even laugh.  This will give Sally permission to find joyful expressions during this sad time.  This will say to her, “We are all sad but we can still laugh and be happy.”

Don’t stop an appropriate amount of tears.  Crying can be the best thing Sally can do at this time.  Tears may not come immediately.  You may need to give Sally permission to cry.  “It’s all right for you to cry.  I’ve been crying because I’m sad.  You will cry too.  That is all right.  Your mother and Jesus will understand that you are hurting and lonely without her.”

Keep the words and explanation simple and clear.  If there are questions, answer them simply and clearly.  Remember she or he may intuitively understand more than you realize.  Give him or her the opportunity to freely express emotion and ask questions that are meaningful to him/her.

Dealing with grief is always a tricky situation.  Remember:

  1. Some families are expressive.
  2. Others find help in remaining strong and stoic.
  3. Your situation will be unique.
  4. The reaction of your family member will also be unique and very personal.
  5. Pray that God will give you wisdom.
  6. Keep your words and explanation simple.
  7. Answer questions.
  8. Allow him or her to cry.
  9. Introduce an opportunity to laugh with the person about some personal memory that will bring  joy.