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What to say at a Memorial Service.

If you typed these words into your search then you are seeking help to find your words–words that capture all you feel for a loved one, a loved one who is no longer with you. I hope this helps.

Forget dates and facts–where he/she born, died, went to school, what job he or she had doesn’t need to be said–include it in a program if you feel it needs to be said.

Tell a story or a mosaic or small tales. One person can combine several stories in their talk or you can invite several speakers to capture various times of that person’s life. Some like to tell a story from childhood, another from young adulthood, another from their parenting years, etc., slowly building a whole life. Others just tell one really good story that sums up the person in such a way that you leave knowing this soul in such a hilarious/brave/tender way that you’ll always carry them with you.

Gather stories from their childhood, a story about one of their struggles, a time they messed up (keeping it vulnerable and real touches hearts much more than acts of valor) tell about a funny or scary time. Before you talk make a list of their personality traits–good and oh so human: generous, stubborn, easy going or tends to jump to conclusions–then find a story that illustrates these traits.

Paint the whole picture. It’s okay that they weren’t perfect. No one is. It’s okay that we remember them as they were–flawed, sometimes heroic other times less so. It’s okay to say what you’ll miss–their crazy-loud sneezes, the way they always squeezed your shoulder when they knew you were having a bad day. Go for examples–not just abstract words (they were kind, sweet, silly-show it instead).

Let people remember.
Use photographs or songs.
Hold up an object they loved–something that reflects them in a unique way.

Laugh.
And cry.
It’s okay, even good to run the gambit of emotions.

Let people walk away feeling they learned something about this person–something they might not have known before. Refer to the things they loved–their favorite songs or poem or movie line you can quite, that they loved gas station coffee, always wore the same old ratty house shoes to go grocery shopping, loved sunflowers and grape popsicles and sang Queen in the car. Make them real.

And end reminding those who have gathered that this person who is now no longer physically with us will forever be remembered–and the more we tell their stories, the more we laugh at their antics, allow them to continue to be a part of our lives because they lived, really lived, warts and all, makes our lives better.

Let your last words be words that leave the audience grateful for having known this person–and grateful that life is indeed fragile, unpredictable, surprising and complex–and that every day is a rare and fleeting gift.

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Being a full-time caregiver for several years and going the “last mile”has taught me a thing or two. I allowed (not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually) my mom to pass in our home and that has changed me. At the time, when I was in the thick of caregiving 24/7 and having to get up and play “prison guard” to my mom who had Parkinson’s (thank God because it slowed her down) and Alzheimer’s (which revved her up) and heart disease (just to throw another kink in the game plan), I spent most nights hitting my bed only occasionally as if it were a trampoline. In those grueling, full of worry, can’t make it better no matter what I do, nights and days I wondered at times if I would survive. I did, and I’m profoundly grateful for this life-changing, push me to the bitter edge experience. This gal learned a thing or two.

  • I learned not to be afraid of disease. Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s I’ve seen what they can dish out, and it’s not pretty. They’re bad, don’t get me wrong, but I know the terrain and I find we’re most afraid of the unknown. I hope to figure out how to deal with whatever grenades life throws me.
  • I want to grab life with gusto. No guarantees in this world. So spend your money, take the trips, laugh with friends. Love big and hard and take risks–the good kind. Do it now. Arbor day, Chinese New Year’s–life’s for celebrating in big and little ways.
  • Stand up for myself–and for those I love. Caregiving comes with a zilliion big and little decisions. It’s easy to be bullied by the medical community, by other family members, by the “shoulds” in your head. I learned to stand up and stand behind my own decisions. It’s easier to blame others, and it takes a big girl (or a big guy) to have the guts to stick to my own convictions.
  • Love what is.Pain comes from the fight to make things a certain way, when we can’t let go of what was and walk across the bridge to what is. I thought my mom was back in my life in such a big way so we could “fix’ our relationship–work through our hurts and misplaced expectations. Wrong. I learned to love her, to love me, to love us–as is.
  • Laugh–or scream–but do something to release those runaway rollercoaster emotions. It’s time to stop holding it all in. Sorrow, guilt, frustration, resentment–it’s all there for a reason. They’re clues to help us know what’s going on in our heads and our hearts. But they’re toxic if they’re stuffed down and not allowed to breathe.
  • Do something I’m proud of. It’s time to leave the world a better place than I found it. I want to be known for something. For making a difference. I want some small sliver of the world changed for the better–because of me. I’ll let you know what sliver grabs my heartstrings next.
  • To stop caring what others think. Get a nose piercing, cut my hair down to the nubs, paint my front door purple and my mailbox lime green, dance under the stars, speak up and speak out when I see an injustice–that’s how I want to live now. That’s how I want to be remembered. Conformity sucks. In the words of Nelson Mandela (I believe he quoted it from Marianne Williamson), “Why are you trying to fit in–when you born to stand out?”
  • Nature heals. Nothing brought me more comfort than the sparkle of light on water, a bird’s wings whirring overhead, a breeze lifting my hair and reminding me to stop for a moment and take it all in. When sorrow slams into my chest I hope to remember to fall into the earth and ask it to take from me what I cannot bear alone.
  • To tell our stories. I wrote every day I cared for my mom. I wrote to stay alive. I wrote to figure out life. I wrote to remember our journey. Those journals became my book, Mothering Mother, but I wasn’t writing to get a book deal. I was writing to capture moments, to pick them up like a prism and look at each facet.
  • When death comes, I hope to dance my way to the next realm, not fight it. I hope I’ll have a bit of a heads up and let go of this world with a dash of grace. I hope I’ll take Chief  Sitting Bull’s words and shout to the universe, “It’s a good day to die!”

That’s what I’ve learned. Oh, I can still be shallow, petty, and mean-spirited at times. I still lose my way–but not for long. Caregiving has changed me. For the better.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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I have a dear friend who has lost 2 sisters to breast cancer and another sister is recovering from the same disease. Cancer has not only ravaged the bodies of the women she loves, it’s left her entire family in fear. She says that most days she ping-pongs between greif and worry. She was their sister, their caregiver. She watched them struggle, and yet she couldn’t save them. 

For well over a decade she has lived in a medical vortex–spending her precious time in oncologist’s offices, hospitals, and participating in studies to try to help scientists gain insight into how to prevent these types of cancers from sprouting in additional family members.

Caregiving a sister is so hard–letting go of someone who has known you your whole life and then having to go on livie as best you can–without them.

She has been consumed by cancer–in every way. She and her daughters are in a cancer study and she knows more medical jargon than JAMA (Journal of American Medical Academy). In the midst of trying to be a mom and enjoy watching her own daughters blossom and go through the rites of passage–learning to drive, prom, boyfriends, college–her joy is tinged with the unsaid words: who’s next?

She fights to live a full life and capture every celebration that comes her way, but there are times when grief rolls in. It can’t be stopped, denied, or ignored. It is relentless and all consuming. But she can’t crawl into a ball like she’d want to, she says. Her daughters and her sister’s daughters need her. My friend has learned a sobering lesson–she values her family. She values today. It’s all she has.

I have no answers. I think we have no choice but to face what comes our way–even when we don’t want to. We can only avoid it for so long. I don’t know why some  people have to face things so overwhelming that it just doesn’t seem right. But I do know what all we can do is to ride the swells of life’s joys and we then plung with the sorrows. To be human is to experience both–and yet not let either extreme consume us. Life is both and all that is in between.

To be loved gives you strength.

To love gives you courage.

Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher

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If someone asked me that point blank, I think I’d say, “Am I Afraid to Die–literally or in theory?”

Most of us aren’t afraid of death per say, we’re afraid of dying. Will it hurt? What comes next? I don’t want my loved ones to hurt…those are the concerns that cause us to wince.

I was my mother’s daughter/full-time caregiver, and my mother passed away in my home with me beside her. I got a ring-side seat for this event and I am profoundly grateful for this. We try a little too hard to neatly contain the messiness of life and birth in our modern world, and we don’t know up-close what the entering or exiting of life looks like. I want to know. I do better knowing.

I was scared to death (word pun, here). I didn’t know if I could handle my mother’s passing. If you’re facing this–as a spouse, a daughter, a son, a dear friend–know that you can. It’s not scary. It’s holy. It’s quiet. It’s easy. It’s hard. I need to mention that it’s hard, but it’s a good hard. It feels like something you’re supposed to do.

Are there some less-than-pleasant biological factors involved? Can be. That’s why hospice is a great support for the end of life. But do know that they’re your support system. Don’t hand this over to them because you think you can’t handle it. Let them show you how.

 I believe it’s vital–after caregiving–to finish the process. You will come out “cleaner” from the experience if you see it through.

In theory, I know that death, (even mine) is inevitable. In theory, I know how a car works, but I sure couldn’t build an engine. Some things require trust that once you’re there, you’ll know what to do.

 I am a person of faith, but I don’t have the hard-fast beliefs I used to. I believe I’m eternal–in some form or another, and I’m less concerned about the location of my after-life. I figure it’s a great big universe, and whether I’m an atom or walking on streets of gold, I’ll be okay. I have a good feeling about it all, and I don’t have to comprehend the details because frankly, if my puny little mind can comprehend the magnificence of the afterlife, then it can’t be too impressive…and I’m looking forward to mind-blowing more than I can possibly comprehend–bring it because I know that eternity is going to be a-maze-ing. (a maze…)  

It’s the jumping off point that has me a bit concerned. Like most folks, I’m not ready to die–today.

 If given the choice, I’d like to hang around a little longer–a few decades, at least. I don’t think growing older makes you suddenly want to stop living either. The only people I know who are wiling to check out are those who have been in excruciating pain–physically or mentally.

 A few people go out gracefully. Their bodies wear out, their loved ones have already crossed over–and they make their peace and let go of this world as if waving goodbye to a dear friend you know you’ll see again soon. Very few. I’d like to be in these ranks, eventually. I’d like to not claw onto this world and the people who have loved and cared for me–I’d like not become a ravenous animal who won’t move on, but I’m not making any promises:)

It reminds me of the old American Indian saying when met with a battle that may end their life, when you know it’s coming, it’s best to take on the mentality, “It’s a good day to die.”  That’s what I’m aiming for when my time comes. I’d like to be the kind of person that recognizes it, steps up to the plate, and chooses to step off the ledge–rather than being pushed.

I think it’s important to ask yourself the question, “Am I Afraid to Die?” Don’t try to force an answer. It’s about pondering the question. Being afraid to die has a lot to do with being afraid to live–and that’s what has my head spinning.

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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Caregiving takes all of you–your heart, your arms, your back…and like all relationships, we’re bound to make a few mistakes along the way.

I made plenty of mistakes caring for my mother. She had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and her care progressed over the course of 12 or so years. At first, my caregiving consisted of calls, driving her places, overseeing her medications and doctor appointments–to eventually moving my mother into my home so I could give her full-time care. My mother passed away in our home and those last few months were some of the hardest and one of the most important times of my life.

So I understand why caregivers do it–push themselves to the edge. We have to give it our all at times–during hospital stays, as Alzheimer’s takes a dark turn, or as cancer ravages those we love.

I was watching a special on NASA’s quest to land on Mars. It’s 100 million miles away. That’s quite a dream and they’ve made lots of mistakes along the way. Costly mistakes. Some blunders can be blamed back to one person or one department, but some accidents are random, unpredictable–human error, solar flares, that most dangerous time when they enter the atmosphere that could wipe out everyone’s work in an instant and set research back years. It’s a huge risk, but the alternative is not to try at all.

They call that time the six minutes of terror. That’s when they’re not in communication and whatever happens is just going to have to happen.

That’s what it’s like to love someone, to try, make mistakes, deal with other people’s mistakes–and it all comes down to six minutes of terror when you have no idea how it’ll work out–all you can do is hope.  

There are a few caregiving mistakes you can avoid:

  • Caregiving too soon. Those first few calls from the emergency room scare you do death and it’s so easy to buy into the drama, to freak out, worry, and jump in. But the problem is, you’ve got to pace yourself. Caregiving can be one long journey and it’s wise not to react emotionally to every blip, to ask for help, and to look at the big picture and make short and long-range plans.
  • Caregiving too late: I was so busy being a mother to my children that I believed my mother when she insisted she could live on her own. I had little checks, little moments of concern–but I denied and ignored them. I wanted–and needed–her to be okay. I knew she was happy living at home–but I wasn’t paying attention. She wasn’t eating right, she was falling all the time (lots of bruises, lots of excuses), and although I was driving her or arranging for her transportation needs, she was desperately holding onto a life that was slipping away.
  • Leaving Yourself Out of the Equation: Worry, lack of sleep, long periods of recuperating from a bad fall or an extended hospital stay…you start to forget. You throw on your clothes, forget to comb your hair, don’t bother with check-ups, don’t fill your prescriptions. You’re always on alert. You don’t mean to, it just happens and months or years down the road and you forget a piece of you. You forget how to have fun, how to let go, how to relax. 
  • Taking Every Piece of Advice or None at All: Either extreme is exhausting–and scary. When I first realized my mother had Alzheimer’s I read everything i could get my hands on–it freaked me out.  I could see our future–her completely mad, me attempting to reach her. In truth, it wasn’t like that–not for a long time. We still had each other. We laughed, We ate together. We held hands. Yes, it got bad at the end but I’m still glad I went down this path. Too much information can drive you crazy. No information is foolish–there’s good out there. Treatments, medications, resources that help–but it has to stay in balance. You have to decide what you listen to.
  • Giving into Guilt and Depression: Both are bricks on your soul. They’ll drown you. I can’t say it’s not going to happen, that you’re not going to have bouts of guilt. You will. I can’t even tell you that depression won’t sneak up on you. But be careful. Depression is tricky. It’s like an alligator–it’ll take you under and won’t let you back up.
  • Not Trusting the Journey: You’ll get off center. You’ll lose your way. You’ll go to the bitter edge–but don’t believe that can’t find your way back.  Humans are amazingly resilient–we can nearly freeze to death or drown, fall down a mountain, recover from life-threatening illnesses–and survive. Don’t think for a minute that you can’t recoup from caregiving. You can. You gave of yourself and the good that you gave will return to you.
  • Not Letting Go: There comes a time when you have to let go. Whether it’s creating a healthy emotional distance or grieving an impending death, we have to learn to let go. I remember one very difficult night when my mother was having a bad episode. She was frantic, not knowing where she was, and I had to pry her hand loose from the rail just to get her back in the bed. I couldn’t do it by force and I didn’t want to hurt her.  I had to undo each finger, gently, calmly, and I knew right then that I was meant to help her figure out how to let go of this world. Letting go isn’t about giving up. Letting go is really about trusting.

All we can do is self-correct. We get off. We yell. We beat ourselves up for saying or doing the wrong thing. We fall into a funk. We lose our way–and all we can do is recognize it and alter our course. Every day, every hour offers a new choice.

Life’s a lot like that bouncing Land Rover on Mars. Will we survive the impact? Will we survive our own mistakes? Will we experience our own six minutes of terror?

Sure we will, but we have to try. 

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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Actress Natasha Richardson died yesterday–from a head injury. She simply fell on the bunny slopes, skiing with her son in Canada. She was 45. As hard as it is to be a caregiver and watch someone you love die slowly, it’s even more heartbreaking to have your time cut short.

I have no doubt that this was a complete shock for her husband, Liam Neeson, their children, and all her family members. You aren’t supposed to die at 45. You aren’t supposed to die from just falling down. She should still be here. Natasha’s family has to be in complete shock. Shock is good. Shock insulates us when life makes no sense. I have no idea whether they had to make the decision to take her off life support or not. It sounds as if they did. That’s a tough, tough place to be, and it’s hard on families to know what’s best to do.

Even if you’re young and healthy, talk to your family.

Let them know ahead that if anything horrific happens, that you trust them to make the best decision they can. Let them know your wishes. (Check out The Five Wishes, a living will that’s in every day language). Encourage your family ahead of time to agree. Give your spouse, partner, daughter, whoever it is–permission to take responsibility for deciding. As hard as it is, it’s even harder to get a consensus.

And, go ahead and write a letter to those you love. I have. They’re in the top drawer of my dresser.

In these letters, I tell my husband, my children, my dearest friends how much very much I love them. I encourage them that the best way to love me, to honor me is to live a great big wonderful life. Grieving is good. It’s necessary. It’s part of the journey–but then love me by living. Remember me by telling stories–and not just the nice ones. I’m flawed and complex. We all are. I remind them to be ordinary, be extraordinary, be yourself. Make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Laugh. Kiss hard and often. Take good risks. Make memories. Exert yourself for those you love. Believe in something. Change your mind. Try again. That’s life.

Natasha is at peace, and her husband, children, mother, sisters, and family has to grieve right now. They need to hold each other and remember her. Death can come as a shock. And for a time, all we can do is breathe and get through moment by moment.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

www.mothering-mother.com

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Are you afraid you won’t be there when your loved one passes away?
Take a moment and be with them now. Close your eyes and talk to them.

A friend called me tonight. She was upset.

Her grandmother had a heart attack–and it doesn’t look good.

She’s afraid she won’t get there in time.

The holidays are a tough time to add grief and worry to the mix.

Not that there’s a good time for a loved  one to die, but it just doesn’t seem right when it’s the holidays.

This is supposed to be a happy time, right? A time for family.

If only disease and death were that courteous–to give us a few days a year of peace.

But unfortunately, it may come at a time when everything in you says, “no, no, no.”

I had a talk with my dad in the middle of the night. I had dreamed about him. I don’t even remember now what the dream was about.

He was having yet another heart surgery–and I woke up–the dream had been so vivid. So, I got up, and he and I had a talk.

Daddy didn’t die for another eight months, but this experience was so real, and ever since, I’ve been so grateful for that quiet time with just the two of us.

 

I listened and suggested that my friend take a few minutes alone and talk to her grandmother.

You can’t always control timing. You can’t always travel–so don’t wait to have that heart-to-heart talk.

Time, distance, disease, loss of memory, and even pain…our prayers, thoughts, and love can transcend all these barriers.

Don’t wait until you get there–planes and cars take time–the power of love is instantaneous.

 

If you’re in this situation, I hope you’ll take a few moments.

Tell them you love them.

Tell them it’s okay to let go now..

Tell them you’ll be okay.

If you need to, ask forgiveness–and accept forgiveness.

Thank them for who they are to you, what they mean to you.

Accept this experience into your heart. This is just as real as if you were to physically be in their presence.

Be at peace.

If your loved one passes away before you arrive, then you’ll have already said what you needed to say.

~Carol O’Dell

Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

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