Grieving during the holidays

If you have lost someone close to you, then a recent article in the Washington Post stated something you already know – we are forever changed by grief. You never completely “move past,” or “get over” your loss. It may be easier to live with, but the thoughts of that individual never leave us.

This reality is a difficult thing to deal with when coupled with our culture in America. We are in such denial of our own mortality that facing the loss of others, reminding us of our own eventualities, makes us uncomfortable. Putting forth a “brave front,” in essence disguising your struggles and the depth of your emotion, is viewed with admiration and appreciation. It is impossible to honestly address your grief in an environment where you are encouraged to stifle it.

sadnessholidaysThe approach of the holidays is arguably one of the most difficult times for those who are grieving. We will anticipate them with dread, knowing that we will be facing memories of special time shared with our loved one. There will be people around us expecting us to be filled with the “holiday spirit,” likely without thought to how we may be feeling. And the pressure from ourselves, not wanting to “ruin” others’ holidays.

In a previous blog, “Not-So-Happy Holidays,” I offered encouragement for grieving individuals to be honest with yourself and others about your feelings, especially at the holidays. As I also discussed in “Comforting the grieving during the holidays,” it can be challenging for friends and loved ones to know how to offer comfort during this difficult time of year. While the articles contained strategic tips to help navigate the holidays, there was a unifying theme: be honest about your feelings. Share them with those who love you. Don’t attempt to hide them, and certainly not from yourself.

I wish you all a very happy, sometimes sad, but always honest Holiday Season.

Dying in America

If you’ve read any of the previous blogs on The Green Reaper, then you know that I am always proclaiming the importance of approaching your burial plans with your own individuality intact. I have seen first-hand how meaningful and fulfilling an alternative burial can be. And I believe that taking our end-of-life decisions on our own terms should extend to all processes at the end of our days.

So I have been very encouraged to see end-of-life issues entering into our national conversation recently. About a month ago the National Institute of Medicine released a report entitled “Dying in America.” This 500-page report examines how our culture and current health care system approach death. The recommendations of that report suggests beginning end-of-life planning earlier and discussing our advance directives more regularly. It also recommends increasing training for doctors and nurses in palliative and hospice care, as well as bolstering the palliative care requirements on accreditation boards and regulatory standards.

Coinciding with the release of this report, “The Atlantic” also published a controversial piece by Zeke Emanuel entitled “Why I want to die at 75.” This piece lays out his opinion that modern medicine has extended the years of our life, but not the quality of our life. He states the case for moving funding from extension of life to focusing on addressing various diseases to improve quality of life earlier on. He also believes more training should be dedicated to palliative care providers, and shares his decision to eschew all preventative testing and measures beyond the age of 75.

With a wide swath of our population approaching retirement, the concerns of end-of-life care are something we should all be considering with even more seriousness. The next several decades will see a staggering increase in the number of people needing medical care and assistance. And while most of these boomers would agree that having a ‘good death’ means approaching the end-of-life on their own terms, they are not all adequately informed to make sure their wishes are known and followed. Medical professionals fight to save lives – a mandate which often results in viewing death as an enemy instead of an eventuality. This combines for a culture that does not always promote preparation and a healthy level of acceptance.

Focusing our conversation on this universal topic and educating our friends and neighbors on their options will do a lot toward changing our culture and promoting a better end-of-life experience. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our loved ones is to push this difficult conversation forward.

Butterfly Hunt

The prairie at Foxfield Preserve is currently hitting the peak of its beauty, with many different species of wildflowers blooming and colorful butterflies floating along in search of nectar. The perfect time for our annual Butterfly Hunt!

During last year’s Butterfly Hunt we had a chance for an up-close look at several different species. (Some of us a little closer than others!)

IMG_3507_smallThere was a great turn-out, with lots of families enjoying the fun. We hope to have another great turn-out this year!

Several of our Foxfield families were in attendance and shared with me how meaningful it was to see families and children enjoying the space. The knowledge that their purchase here, or their loved one’s loss, had made this beautiful space and special experience possible was incredibly touching. To see children running through the Preserve with their butterfly nets aloft presented a stark comparison to the traditional cemetery and demonstrated that Foxfield is a place full of life.

IMG_3512_small

 

Come join in the fun this Saturday, August 30, at 10:00!

Preparing children for loss

Returning to my hometown to raise our children has provided a lot of wonderful opportunities for our family. One of the most wonderful in my mind, though, has been the chance for our young son to get to know and spend a good deal of time with my own grandparents. I feel like it is such a gift!

My grandparents delight in seeing my son growing and discovering the world, and my son seems to truly enjoy the time we spend with them. Over his short lifetime their health has been deteriorating, and he has watched as our family has assisted them more and more. As a result, he has adjusted accordingly. His hugs and kisses have become more gentle. He is watchful and careful (as a 3-year-old can be) when playing near them. He also asks if they are okay, aware that they are not always comfortable. While their failing health is incredibly difficult for everyone, it seems to be affording him valuable life lessons in compassion at a young age.

Recently an extended hospital stay provided a stark reminder for my husband and I that sooner than later we would need to prepare our son for the most challenging of life’s lessons – there will be an end. Before we are faced with the grief of a loss, we are hoping to provide him with a bit of preparation. But in spite of my role here, I was at a bit of a loss on how best to approach explaining death and grief to my child. After a bit of research, I thought it would be helpful to share the tips I’ve gathered:

  1. Be honest with your children about what is happening to their loved one. Children are more aware than we realize when something is wrong, but they need our guidance and explanations to know how to process the experience.
  2. Be welcoming of their questions and do your best to answer them all as simply as possible. Try to keep your answers appropriate for their level of development and try not to overload them. If you don’t know the answers to their questions, say so.
  3. Avoid euphemisms that may cause confusion and frighten your child, such as “sleeping forever.”
  4. Allow your child to be involved in care-taking duties and to visit their loved one. Again, answer any questions or concerns that may arise from these visits.
  5. Don’t hide your own emotions from your child. Sharing and explaining how you feel can help your child learn to process and share their own emotions.

Your child’s first experience with loss will do much to shape their lifelong views of death and grief. And more than anything that you can tell your child, the behavior you model during this difficult time will also shape the way they process grief. It is important that we don’t allow our own fears and taboos to limit us in our ability to help our children.

For further information, I highly recommend the articles linked below:

When a Grandparent Dies

8 Ways to Prepare Your Young Child for a Grandparent’s Death 

Talking to Children About Death

Helping Children Cope with Bereavement

 

Ohio Cemetery Law Task Force

We’ve been honored to be involved this year with the work of the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Real Estate as their newly formed Cemetery Law Task Force endeavors to review and revise the cemetery laws for the state. To their credit, the Cemetery Law Task Force has done a wonderful job of inviting testimony from and considering the concerns of many interested parties – tribal councils, archaeologists, genealogists, historians, cemeterians, local municipalities and veterans affairs, among many others.

While we don’t know what the results of their efforts and hearings will be, we are very encouraged at the interest the Task Force has shown in natural burial. We have been happy to provide testimony of our concerns and to share information on our operations.

Though the Task Force will not release their recommendations until October, it is possible for anyone interested to follow along with their progress through their meeting minutes posted on their website. We will pass along any pertinent changes here as they are announced.

Serving generations

Last Saturday we threw a birthday party for The Wilderness Center. Founder’s Day was a chance for us to celebrate 50 years serving our community!

_DSC3183_DSC3177

In addition to the festivities (what party is complete without ice cream?!), we shared historical photos and stories from our 50 years, and our hopes and dreams for where the next 50 years will take us together.

It also proved to be a chance to celebrate our shared histories with our members and friends. We were delighted that so many of our members were eager to share their memories and experiences from the past 5 decades. RegulaFoundersDay14_smallIt was amazing to hear from our original founders and those that grew up exploring these trails – including our current board president, Andy Haag, whose parents were founding members!

AndyFoundersDay2014

Knowing that we have been a part of people’s lives for generations makes us incredibly proud.

During the celebration, a couple approached me for information about Foxfield Preserve. They have been married for 50 years and went on a walk in Sigrist Woods for their very first date. Over the years they brought children and grandchildren here for hikes and programs. They told me that now, though they can’t hike the trails like they used to, they enjoy watching the birds in the Wildlife Observation Room. Now they are interested in burial at Foxfield, knowing that they will spend eternity where they first began to fall in love.

What an honor to be a touchstone in the lives of others – to serve them from their earliest steps until the end of their days. It was a lovely celebration, and a wonderful reminder of what we have meant to the community and what we should continue to strive for in the future.

Exploring and making memories

In my last blog post “Exploring with Dad,” I talked about how much I learned from the little adventures I used to take in the woods with my father. Last weekend at Foxfield, we had a chance to share the adventure of the journey with people attending our Father’s Day Exploration Hike.

Our attendees enjoyed a lovely, sunny morning stroll through the Preserve with TWC volunteer naturalist, Sam Weaver. The group, which included 3 fathers and their sons, identified the wildflowers blooming on the prairie and enjoyed watching the tree swallows swooping overhead after various insects. We spied on fledgling bluebirds in the boxes along the edges of the prairie (aren’t they adorable little naked things?!), and learned about the incredible dramas unfolding within a goldenrod gall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was an excellent day for learning and exploring – and for making memories.

Exploring with Dad

When I was little, there was nothing better than heading into the woods or fields with my father for a little exploring. Though he may have intended to hunt for morels or arrowheads, we girls usually ended up searching for fairies beneath the may apples or building dams in the stream. Though we all usually came back empty-handed, it was the exploration and all we experienced along the way that was the highlight of the day.

I see that excitement now in my son, as he eagerly pulls out his boots and asks Daddy or Grandpa to take him on a ‘venture in the woods. I recognize the joy of setting out to see what you can discover, knowing that the search will be your reward.

Creek4Aside from many special moments spent with my father, these walks also taught me many things. I learned that you need to take time to find joy in the journey; something I am constantly reminded of in my work at Foxfield. These hikes also encouraged me to continue developing my curiosity and adventurous spirit, as the most wonderful discoveries rewarded the inquisitive and bold (along with wet shoes and dirty pants – but those were a small price to pay).

While there are many gifts and lessons our fathers may impart, these are the ones I will be celebrating this year. What will you celebrate in your relationship with your father?

This year we’ll be hosting an Exploration Hike at Foxfield this Saturday at 10 a.m. in honor of Father’s Day. If you would like to experience the joy of this journey, please join us to see what you might find along the way!

The natural burial movement

I’ve never been good at tooting my own horn. Frankly, I was always raised to believe that your actions and deeds should speak for themselves.

Over the past 6 years, our actions at Foxfield Preserve really have spoken volumes. We’ve introduced and championed the natural burial movement in Ohio, promoting a burial alternative that conserves natural resources, protects lands and provides funding for nature education and conservation. And along the way we have provided many families with peace and a meaningful farewell. I’d say those actions speak pretty clearly of our principles and values! (Toot! Toot!) tuba In fact, we believe so deeply in the work that we are doing, that we are also actively working to help others set-up similar operations. Foxfield has been offering advice and consulting services to several organizations, but we are incredibly proud to share the exciting progress of one right here in Ohio. We have been sharing our experiences and guidance with the Philander Chase Land Trust of Kenyon College for several years as they worked to develop their own natural burial ground – which is expected to open near Columbus in 2015!

We’re so proud to be paving the path for others to follow in our footsteps, and so happy that Ohio will have another great alternative for simple, natural burials. We look forward to more forces joining us in this groundswell towards sustainable burial practices. Congratulations to Philander Chase!

Bird Drama

On an overcast day last week, I was taking a family up to Foxfield to choose their burial plot. Winter dealt a heavy blow to our country roads here, so our progress was slowed a bit to accommodate the bumpy terrain. A lucky thing for us, as it turns out, because it afforded us the time to notice a bright flash of red in the TWC forest edging Alabama Avenue. My companions exclaimed at the bright cardinal, but a second look proved that we were looking at two beautiful scarlet tanagers.

Scarlet Tanager

This has kicked off a week with the return of lots of beautiful birds to our area. Our naturalists and friends have been reporting sightings on our TWC property with excitement, as some of our favorites have been appearing. Over the last several days our naturalists and docents have returned to the Interpretive Building with news of warblers singing in our woods – common yellow warblers, a golden-winged warbler and cerulean warblers. One of our naturalists even spotted a barred owl while walking one of the trails!

female yellow warbler1You don’t even need to venture far from the Interpretive Building to spot some of the new arrivals. Near the Lakeview Shelter a yellow-breasted chat has been busily singing away. Our feeders were hosting a male and female grosbeak earlier this week. Our hummingbird feeder is finally seeing the return of the first hummingbirds of the summer, but has also been serving an oriole this week.

baltimore_oriole_1

Up on the Preserve there are bluebirds nesting happily in our houses around the prairie. One momma is even sitting on 5 little eggs! My most recent stroll through the cemetery was even marked by the soundtrack of one of our many mockingbirds.

Bluebird Eggs

With all of this activity, our Mother’s Day Bird Watch this Saturday should be a very exciting event! All are welcome to join us – experienced birdwatchers and beginners alike. Bring your own binoculars (or borrow some of ours) and meet us at the TWC Interpretive Building at 9 a.m. There should be plenty of beautiful birds to see!