The Servants of Mary offer Congratulations to Fr. Jack Topper, OSM & also to Fr. Richard Boyle, OSM

Fr. Jack Topper, O.S.M., Retires
After 25 Years at The Grotto
The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother (The Grotto) announces the retirement of Fr. Jack Topper, O.S.M.
Fr. Jack has served The Grotto for many years, first as Director from 1991-2014 and then as Rector from 2014 to the present. Fr. Jack’s tenure at The Grotto were years of modernization, beautification, and greater visitor outreach.
When Fr. Jack arrived at The Grotto in the summer of 1991, a fund-raising campaign to construct a new gift shop was already underway and Fr. Jack worked hard  to build new relationships with the friends and supporters of The Grotto, as well as the larger community. The Grotto Gift Shop, as well as the adjoining plaza were dedicated in early 1995.
In 2001, a new visitor complex and conference center facility was completed in the plaza, on the site of the old gift shop. Other projects followed: a major plaza restoration in 2003, and a modernization of the elevator to the Upper Level Gardens in 2007. In 2010, Fr. Jack oversaw the installation of a meditative labyrinth in the Upper Level Gardens, modeled after the labyrinth in France’s Chartres Cathedral. This project was spearheaded by Servite Sister Val Lewandoski and Fr. Jack.
Fr. Jack is most proud of the creation and installation of the wayside cultural shrines that now grace a quiet pathway in the Upper Level Gardens. A Lithuanian shrine had been erected at The Grotto in 1963. In 2007, Fr. Jack collaborated with the members of the local Polish St. Stanislaus parish to create a new wayside shrine in honor of Our Lady of Czestochowa. This was followed by the installation of Dambana, the Filipino shrine in 2008. Most recently, the Our Lady of Lavang Vietnamese shrine was dedicated on Freedom Sunday in July of 2016, and the blessing and dedication of the shrine in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, will take place Saturday, October 29.
In 2012, Fr. Topper was the recipient of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (for the Church and the Pope) medal, also known as the Cross of Honor, an award bestowed on clergy and lay people by the papacy in recognition of outstanding service to the Church.
Honoring this occasion, Fr. John Fontana, O.S.M., Prior Provincial of the Friar Servants of Mary, USA Province, stated, “We Servites are so proud and so deeply grateful to Fr. Jack, who has been the ‘face and voice’ of the Grotto, and of the Servite community, for more than 23 years! He has developed the Sanctuary physically and spiritually. And, with his engaging personality, he has so ably led its diverse ministries of hospitality, spiritual enrichment, worship and prayer, offering the opportunity for both quiet reflection and joyful celebrations to such a vast variety of pilgrims and visitors from near and far.”
Fr. Richard Boyle, O.S.M.,
Appointed Rector of The Grotto

The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother (The Grotto) announces the appointment of Fr. Richard Boyle, O.S.M., as Rector.  Fr. Boyle begins his tenure November 1, 2016.

Fr. Boyle comes to The Grotto with a wealth of pastoral and ministerial experience, most recently in the Diocese of Sacramento, CA, where he served the parishes of St. James in Davis, CA, and St. Joseph in Rio Vista, CA. He also served as Catholic Chaplain at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, and at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, CA. Fr. Boyle spent many years in education ministry at Servite High School, Anaheim, CA.
“I am delighted to be taking on this new responsibility, pastoral role, and ministry,” saysFr. Boyle. “Certainly, it’s a bit daunting… a ‘big job,’ but my best guide, counsel, and inspiration comes from the Lord himself, who said many, many times in the Gospels, ‘Do not be afraid.'”
No stranger to the Portland area, Fr. Boyle previously served on The Grotto staff in the 1990s and was also pastor of the parishes of St. Rita, Portland, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Cottage Grove, OR. In 2015, Fr. Boyle was appointed to The Grotto’s first Board of Directors.
“While one might say that Fr. Richard has big shoes to fill after Fr. Jack’s 25 years, I am pleased to affirm rather, that he arrives in his own shoes, which have walked through high school, parish, hospital, and prison ministries,” said Fr. John Fontana, Prior Provincial of the Friar Servants of Mary, USA Province. “All that experience has prepared him well to minister to the many people who make their way to The Grotto.”
The Grotto
NE 85th & Sandy Blvd.
Portland, OR 97220

The Empty Chair


Sr. Kerry Larkin, OSM
Sr. Kerry Larkin, OSM

Is there a whole in your heart that only God can fill?

I don’t know about you but I was not prepared to deal with the reality that my brother Kevin, who was just a year older than me, was seriously ill. Nor was I prepared to deal with his death eight months after he had been diagnosed with kidney failure.

It’s still difficult for me to find the words that come close to expressing the grief, loss and sadness that followed, and continues to be a part of my life today five years after Kevin’s death.

After the death of my brother, Kevin, I found myself wondering how Jesus dealt with death and loss in his young life.   So I turn to scripture to see if there was an answer to that question. It led me to the scripture story of the Martha, Mary and Lazarus.  In his Gospel, John describes the loving relationship Jesus has with this family and the compassion he showed in helping Martha and Mary deal with their grief over the loss of their bother, Lazarus. Mary and Martha dealt with their grief in different ways. Just as I dealt with the grief of losing my brother differently than my siblings.

It’s okay to feel deeply troubled even a little confused as we get in touch with our own sense of loss. The reality of how important our sibling was to us and the broken bond, never to be replaced, takes time.  Jesus himself wept over the death of Lazarus.

So what does this mean for us? I believe we will find the answer in the words that Jesus spoke to both Martha and Mary; “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

What we need to understand is there is more to our existence than what we experience here on earth.   We often hear the saying, “We are Human Beings on a spiritual journey, but in truth we are Spiritual Beings on a human journey.”  That is part of the Paschal Mystery: Life, Death and Resurrection.  Once Jesus calls us forth from the tomb all the chairs will no longer be empty and the whole in our heart will be filled.

Sr. Kerry will be sharing more of her personal story and how this scripture passage helps her on her grief journey at the Servite Center of Compassion in Omaha, NE. To register for this event, visit the Servants of Mary website at and click on “Servite Center” and then “Registration for the Servite Center of Compassion”. For more information on dates and times please contact Sr. Kerry at


The Power of Gratitude


Sr. Barb Kennedy, OSM

This is not your ordinary “Let’s be grateful – it’s thanksgiving time” blog.  It’s about gratitude but not the kind that says, “Once a year we should say a blessing at dinner.” At first the following ideas might sound a bit flaky, yet I think you will be grateful you read this.

Recent research has found that thoughts of gratitude are good for us in many ways.  It slowly changes our attitude for the better. Performing simple gratitude exercises like writing thank you notes, keeping a gratitude journal or finding ways to pay it forward increases well being and reduces depression.  For example, adults who keep gratitude journals show a greater increase in determination, attention, better sleep and more energy than those who don’t.

Realizing that others have it worse off is not gratitude.  True gratitude is realizing the positive aspects in our lives.  It is not a comparison.  For the effects of gratitude to reap the most benefit, we first have to recognize it and then the next step is actually expressing appreciation.

First, a word about recognizing it. Let’s say we’re having a bad day, difficulty at work, or a fight with our spouse or good friend, stuck in traffic, late for a meeting.  Gratitude doesn’t mean these things didn’t happen and let’s play Pollyanna about life.  It does mean there is still so much good in our life that goes unrecognized every day.  Have you thought about being grateful for toothpaste, your eyesight even if it’s not so great? How about the shoes on your feet, windshield wipers or popcorn?  But let’s revisit for a minute that bad day you just had.  Can we be grateful for the opportunity to become more patient, more accepting, be just a bit more humble?

A must read is Brother David Steindl-Rast book, Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer.  On of his many challenging statements is, “This is how I show my faith – not by asking to get what I need but by trusting that I need what I get…the gift within every gift is opportunity

And now what?  How will we live in gratitude and express our gratitude?  We could easily keep a gratitude journal and write down three things we are grateful every day and not repeat ourselves. We need to be grateful for gratitude.  It does so much for others and us.

The Boss’s Grief


Paul Brustowicz

In his new autobiography, Bruce Springsteen writes extensively about his father, Doug, “Pop” as he calls him, and their relationship or lack thereof.  Bruce describes his dad’s death in 1998, the funeral, a eulogy, and burial service in Freehold, NJ, Springsteen’s hometown. He writes about the problem of confronting his grief. His stoicism.

He writes that he felt “claustrophobic” after his Pop’s death.  After the funeral, he spent two weeks sleeping outside.  He couldn’t drag himself inside.  Then he made a pilgrimage to all his Pop’s old haunts: a bar, a marina, a parking lot at a boat ramp.  He moped around and then “came inside and gave in to the tears.”

When Bruce was making his fame and fortune in ’70s and early ‘80s, I wasn’t paying attention.  Everything I ever learned about pop music came from my wife and my sons. When we moved back to NJ in ’83, I learned more than I wanted to know about Bruce.  It seemed the whole state was taken with him.  Well, maybe not the whole state, but a certain generation and demographic was enamored with Bruce.  Probably because he was an “everyman” who sang about everyman and the blue collar world.  He did not play the part, he was the part! He grew up the part.

Brian was into Bruce.  I spent many a road trip with Brian listening to Born to Run, Growing Up  and other Bruce favorites.  Can cassette tapes wear out? Bruce was Brian’s anthem in those driving lessons we took up into the Highlands, Atlantic Highlands, Sea Bright and Rumson.

After Brian died, I wrote a song, or maybe it is just a bad poem:

“Bruce Springsteen Makes Me Cry”.

I haven’t read it in years. It is handwritten in ink on yellow paper. It is not dated, but it had to be 1992.  Surprisingly I can read my own handwriting/printing.  Here it is.

He sings about the Jersey Shore

of teens and love and cars,

With raspy voice and twangy guitar.

We’d drive on River Road or Ocean Boulevard,

While Bruce was wailing about glory days or

the tunnel of love.

Just Brian and me tooling along Monmouth roads.

It didn’t matter where I drove

As long as it was far.

We didn’t talk much, I don’t why.

Brian always brought the tapes:

Guns and Roses, Billy Joel,

Paul Simon, and Bruce.

It didn’t matter what I drove

ZX, Sable, Olds,

a ride was a ride and that’s

what he liked.

Some nights I’d be in no mood.

I’d cut it short, Scenic Drive and back;

Other times we circled Middletown

Through Holmdel, Rumson and Sea Bright.

When in the mood Brian told me

Of his dreams of sports, big houses and Porsches.

He told me he loved me, more than once.

He talked about his grandpa and his brother and his friends.

In summer we’d argue about the radio station,

I’d want to hear a baseball game,

He wanted rock and roll.

We’d push the buttons and annoy each other.

Brian won’t hear the new rock and roll anymore,

But I listen for him, so what,

If Bruce Springsteen makes me cry.

Elihaz, Bildad, Sophat and Elihu


Paul Brustowicz

It is the twenty-sixth week of ordinary time, and the first readings for daily Mass are selections from the book of Job, from Chapter 1 on Monday to the end of Chapter 42 on Saturday. On Monday God is chatting with the angels and Satan shows up to put in his two cents.  Satan offers a challenge: let me knock that guy Job around and we’ll see how much he really loves you and worships you. God says “okay” but you’re not allowed to “lay a hand upon his person”.

The next thing you know Job’s farms are destroyed: the oxen and asses are stolen, the sheep are destroyed by lightning, the camels are raided and almost all his workers are killed. A tornado takes down the house with five of his children. The reading ends with Job blessing the Lord.

Not in the readings are Satan’s second attempt at Job: he breaks out in boils and sores. Mrs. Job says he should curse the lord already and get it over with.  Job is like: we take good days from the Lord, why not the bad?

Job’s friends show up to console him and sit Shiva. After seven days of silence, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar,  and Elihu offer advice and consolation that goes on and on and on. Eliphaz contends that God punishes evil doers. Bildad tells Job that maybe his children sinned against God and were punished. Zophar opines that Job hasn’t gotten half of what he deserves. Elihu says that God always gets it right and suffering is part of his plan.  With friends like this who needs enemies?

After each one speaks his piece on why Job is suffering, Job answers each one of them with pretty much the same message. I don’t deserve this. He rants and raves at God. He questions God and his beliefs; he never blames God for his trials and suffering. He just wants to know “why”. Why this undeserved suffering? What did I do wrong? I don’t remember doing anything wrong.

After the four “friends” have their say and Job has debated everything with them and a mute God, a storm pops up and God speaks from a whirlwind to Job. God tells Job to “listen”. God will be asking the questions and looking to Job for the answers. He presents a litany of all the good things He has done since the creation of the world. He points out that His goodness was there all the time. He hasn’t left him alone. Job slaps himself upside the head and acknowledges God’s presence, praises Him and then apologizes to God, “I won’t do that again.” The book of Job ends with a short story of Job’s new found wealth, family and friends.

I think that Elihaz, Bildad, Sophat and Elihu show up at every funeral and wake to offer platitudes and advice.   ‘God wouldn’t give more that you can handle”; “everything happens for a reason”; “another angel was needed in heaven”.

And behind your back, “I wonder what she did to deserve this”. Maybe you have been a friend of Job, offering advice.  I know I have been on both ends of that stick. When I’ve been on the Job end, all I want is for someone to listen and support me.  When I’m on the friend end, I want God to jump out of the whirlwind, slap me upside the head, and remind me He is our friend in heaven. And that no one does anything to deserve their suffering. It is a mystery.  That is life.

A New Resource: GRASP Help



Paul Brustowicz

Opioid and heroin addiction and its consequences have been in the news recently, both locally and nationally.  In one story, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that statistics show an increase in deaths due to heroin and opioid abuse. According to DEA, over seventy deaths a day occur nationally due to misuse of heroin and opioids. They report that almost 80% of new heroin addicts had previous experience with prescription opioids.

A recent story in my local newspaper about efforts to prevent overdose deaths had testimonials from mothers of teens who died from heroin misuse or experimentation after having been addicted to a prescription opioid painkiller. The mothers all had the same message: pay attention to your children’s medications and mental state.  Don’t take anything for granted and don’t assume it can’t be my son, my daughter who might be using drugs.  The message is not new and here is why.

When a heroin overdose took the life of a 20 year old year woman in 1994, her parents felt compelled to spread the word about addiction as a disease. In 1996, the name Jenny took on a new meaning when these parents started an outreach program named after their daughter.  “Jenny’s Story” was a warning to parents and young people about the dangers of substance abuse. How alcohol, cocaine, or heroin addiction takes over a life and results in an untimely death.

But an ironic thing happened over the months and years they brought their presentations to various churches and schools.  Jenny’s parents found that they were “preaching to the choir” when, after a meeting, other survivors of a substance-caused death approached them with their own story.

These survivors were looking for solace in their grief over a unique loss.  A loss that was sometimes stigmatized due to its very nature.  Drugs were involved.  Was it an accident? Was it suicide? These survivors felt that there was nowhere to get support.

The word itself, death/died, is hard enough to get across your lips but overdose is harder. Survivors are left behind in a world of hurt and they can’t understand why someone they loved succumbed to the siren sound of a drug.  What piles on top of their grief is the heartlessness of friends and family who have no compassion because death came from an overdose. Whom can you share your grief with?  Who can understand?

Again, Jenny’s parents took action and formed a support group in their hometown.  As the epidemic of substance deaths spread, more support groups were formed locally in southern California.

In 2002, “Jenny’s Story” morphed into a new self-help group for the bereaved whose loss was from substance overdose.  Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing, GRASP, was formed as a safe place to share the feelings of loss and grief.

But it just isn’t GRASP, it is  Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing Help.  Read it out loud. Grief…Recovery…After…a…Substance…Passing…Help.

It is a source of help for those grieving a loss due to substance abuse.  GRASPHelp is not just for bereaved parents. Meeting attendance is wide ranging: parents, friends, spouses, adult children. According to their website, there are about 100 chapters in 32 states. If you check out the website you’ll find a blog for questions and comments; a memorial site; suggested readings; and biographies of the current leadership.

Another resource for the bereaved is always welcome as we deal with our grief.

Helping People with Alzheimer’s or Memory Loss Understand News of a Death

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D

When someone we love dies, we grieve. That is, we experience a wide range of thoughts and feelings inside us. We also express our grief by crying, talking about the loss, attending the funeral, and other actions. Grief expressed is called mourning, and mourning is how we heal.

For people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, the grieving and mourning process grows more complicated. Grief is always difficult, but when someone’s brain is no longer working well, it is even more challenging, both for the person with memory loss and for her  family and caregivers.

This article is intended to help families and caregivers of dementia patients after someone they love dies or another significant loss. It offers affirmation, guidance, and encouragement.

A few foundational principles

Every dementia patient’s circumstances are unique. How best to help a particular dementia patient after a loss will depend on the degree of cognitive and physical decline, the patient’s personality, the particular circumstances of the loss, and many other factors. Always trust your judgment about the person in your care.

Whenever feasible, weigh the possibility of truth. Yes, the truth can be painful, but anyone who loves has a need and right for the opportunity to grieve and mourn.

Always, but especially after a loss, the person with Alzheimer’s needs your empathy. Empathy is more active than sympathy. Regardless of the details of the loss you choose to share or the exact wording you use, your empathetic presence and ongoing support is the essential helping tool.

Sharing the news

 It can be hard to know if or how to share the news of a death with someone who has memory impairment. In general, if the person who died was part of the person’s everyday life, the news should not be actively withheld. Even if the patient doesn’t or cannot ask for the person who is no longer there, keep in mind that people with dementia can often still perceive and be affected by the emotions of others around them. When caregivers are upset, the patient may become upset without having any understanding of what is causing the strife.

Share the news at a time of day when he is the most calm and lucid. There is usually no need to disturb him in the middle of the night or at a time that isn’t good for him. Talk in peaceful surroundings that feel safe to him. Distractions and noise are hard for people with dementia. Turn off the TV and shut the door. Use direct, concrete language. Avoid euphemisms such as “passed away.” Tell him what happened without embellishing with too many details. Let his questions or behaviors guide what additional information to share. Be patient and present to him as he tries to process the new reality.

Should you share the news if the person who died is not part of the Alzheimer’s patient’s everyday life, especially if the patient doesn’t seem to remember the person? That’s a harder question to answer, but try applying this litmus test: If love remains, honesty respects that love. And people with dementia sometimes understand or absorb more than we think, even when they seem like they haven’t.

And what about repetitive death news sharing? Understandably, people with dementia often forget that someone close to them has died. Even when they are told many times, the next hour or day they may have forgotten again. This “Groundhog Day” routine is frustrating, and sometimes heartbreaking, for everyone involved. There is no right answer in such circumstances. Distraction and white lies are sometimes appropriate. Try to remember, though, that bearing witness to painful truths is a gift you can still give your loved one. While difficult, death news can spark reminiscing and rekindle old memories that the person with memory loss finds meaningful.

Involvement in the funeral

 Involve the person who has dementia in the funeral planning if possible. Tell her about the choices that are being made. Encourage her to share her memories of the person who died and try to include those memories in the service.

Attending the visitation, the ceremony itself, and the gathering afterward is often also very meaningful for the person with dementia. What’s more, the familiar structure of the ritual can be comforting and supportive. It’s not uncommon for Alzheimer’s patients to be surprisingly compliant and even “present” at funerals.

If it’s not possible for the person with Alzheimer’s to attend the funeral, you can still use rituals to help him understand the fact of the death and work through his grief, Perhaps a private viewing time could be arranged.

A minister or other spiritual leader could visit and conduct a short service at his place of residence. Maybe occasional visits to the cemetery could be arranged. The more you include the Alzheimer’s patient in the funeral process—before, during, and even after– the more likely he will be able to retain the fact of the death and grieve and mourn in ways that may help him.

Excerpt from the article “Helping People with Alzheimer’s or Memory Loss Understand News of a Death” by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Reprinted with permission from Grief Digest, Centering Corporation, Omaha, Nebraska, 866-218-0101.

Grow Where You are Planted


A friend had offered me a variety of perennial plants she was removing from her meticulous garden, and I greedily accepted, because I know that perennial plants bloom under adverse conditions in most any environment. Many of the varieties were new to me and I struggled with identifying them by their Latin names (which she knew very well) compared to the common names I knew. Additionally, I was mentally storing information about their preferred habitat: shade or sun. Laden with buckets of wilting plants, I hurried home wanting to put their thirsty roots into rich black dirt. Confused by pail after pail of plants that right now all looked the same, I tried to sort them according to my mental record “needs sun, needs shade.” Finally, overwhelmed, I plunked them all in the holes I had prepared. In the heat of the morning sun, I stammered, “Grow where you are planted!”

The old proverb rebounded and flashed a hidden memory before me. When I was struggling with my grief, someone gave me a picture of a girl with a sprinkling can, watering flowers, and the proverb, “Grow Where You Are Planted” boldly written beneath it. I hung it on my bulletin board for inspiration for years to come. Looking back, today, I believe that I took that proverb to heart and used my life experience to grow in the troubled soil I was given.

How does one grow when life itself has wilted and lost its meaning and purpose? After loss, this is probably the greatest challenge of all. Unfortunately, it’s a challenge that each person must manage alone. Growth and freedom from grief begins with soul searching, values identification and renewing our attitudes.

Our lives have come to a halt. Sometimes we are doing what we are doing because we don’t feel we have any options. Or we may be harvesting a sorry attitude because of the circumstances life has handed us. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of feeling sorry for one’s self. However, we all have the power to find personal growth and happiness in our lives—again. Sometimes, happiness begins with just a few minutes a day. And when each minute expands to an hour or even a day of peace, our spirits are reaching new potential and personal self-growth. Eventually, we can uncover the meaning, purpose and happiness we desperately seek.

Do Some Soul Searching
When we soul search, we reach inside to understand what our culture and family traditions have taught us. Then, we determine how it applies to us today, and what is important for us to keep and what needs to be changed in order to live comfortably in today’s world without betraying our heritage.

Change the Rules
The rules for grieving have changed, folks. We no longer wear black garments to symbolize death (now, black is a fashion statement). Widows aren’t expected to dress drably and have restrictions for attending social events. Black wreaths aren’t hung on doors anymore, nor do we wear black armbands. In fact, the rules have changed so much that workers are expected to return to work in three days—and be productive! The very act of grieving has been cut short for social convenience!

On the other hand, there is a clearer trend for funeral services to truly become a celebration of a life lived. Dirges have been replaced with heart and soul music. We applaud the deceased for his or her contribution to family, community and friends. We hang pictures telling stories about life events. We bring personal items to the funeral including achievement trophies, symbols of hobbies, interests and creativity and evidence of hard physical work. We sing! We tell stories. We even laugh!

Twelve years ago when our son Chad took his own life, I returned to work sullen, broken and empty. True support wasn’t readily available. Suicide was considered taboo, and people tended to judge the survivors as pitiful. The rules were: Don’t talk about the incident; it might give others ideas. Check your family history; the “crazy” gene may run rampant. Punish yourself for not “seeing” there was a problem.

Now, education about suicide is evolving and more people are becoming aware of the signs, the preventions, the human factors of tolerance in pain and the inconsistencies of the final act. I can celebrate Chad’s life as an individual and an inspiration. An inspiration? Yes. Not because of what he did, but because of who he was before the act and what I have become as a result of my grief.

Choose to Learn
Grief often leaves us helpless. Our lives shut down, and we may turn away from new experiences or things we once enjoyed. Instinctively, we are born as creatures striving to learn, develop and survive. Feeding the mind feeds the soul and knowledge gives us power to heal.

There are ways to reach inside and store new experiences, thoughts and untold wisdom that allow us to “grow” through our grief. Taking a class, listening to a lecture, trying a new sport or exercise, discussing something deep or personal with a trusted friend, expressing our feelings through music or words, and researching the conditions of life in a good book give us thoughts to ponder.

A woman in one of our support groups described her life after her spouse’s death. He was her companion and her access to the outside world. He drove the car and chauffeured her wherever she went. When he died, she felt helpless, lonely and isolated. With a little encouragement, she decided to do the unthinkable. She drove alone on her first solo trip to Milwaukee (busy city some four hours away from home). She beamed from ear to ear with her personal accomplishment.

Identify Values
Remove the “someday” syndrome. We often live under the assumption that “someday” I will do this. (Someday, when the kids are through with college, we’ll spend some money on ourselves.) Or we put conditions on choices by specifying “when”: When I win the lottery, I’ll go for a great vacation.” I do recognize that money is often a barrier to many of our desires. Therein is the defining question, “Do I really need this—or do I just want this?” Which becomes a critical deciding factor. Most things that bring us happiness are not purchased. What brings us true joy is most often the result of something we are doing for others.

A friend had a good paying job and was allowed the luxury of spending her earnings for personal items she liked. It wasn’t that she was “selfish” because she certainly bought things for the family, and she didn’t need to be frugal. When she suddenly lost her job, she decided to take an early retirement. Her cash flow quickly went dry. She began “babysitting” for her grandchildren at no charge. I noticed a great sense of inner joy—different than previously. She explained that she found her family appreciated the “gift” of her time more than the purchased gifts she could give them.

Honor the Past, but Leave Some Behind
The slogan, “Honoring the Past and Rebuilding the Future” states the ministry of our Wings organization. The stories of life and death, the memories stored and the recollection of good times should be shared, recorded and celebrated.

I remember when Chad was confirmed and again when he was graduated. I followed a tradition much to his chagrin. At each party, I dragged out framed pictures of the growing years and photo albums for our guests to chuckle over. Don’t save the experience for funerals—make anytime a good time to remember. Honor the stories of the past, but don’t hesitate to leave the traumas of the past behind. You can’t change what has happened, and you risk becoming exhausted and bitter if you hold onto the pain. Rebuild your future with loving stories and memories that heal the spirit and give meaning to your loved one’s life.

Renew your Attitude
Accept a challenge. Grief, illness, and personal loss qualify as the greatest contenders for first prize in defeating attitudes. Get an “I Can Do This” attitude. When our attitudes are tainted by life’s events, it’s easy to feel “helpless” in the face of adversity. It’s also makes us feel very deserving of another person’s sympathy. The real cure for an attitude slump is the final reality that no one can change what has happened to you. No one can take away the pain except you. Accept the challenge, and you will persevere.

When Chad died, I admit I needed all the sympathy I could get. My first reaction was, why did God let this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? My reality check came atop a thirty-foot pole about a year after Chad died. Our consulting work-group took part in the “leadership challenge” offered by our company. The ultimate challenge ended with climbing a thirty-foot pole with belay ropes attached to the harnesses we wore. Each person did this individually and went as far up the pole as they felt comfortable with, and then one step beyond to meet the challenge. I was determined to make it to the top and jump!

When my shaking heavy legs finally supported my not-thin-enough frame on the 12” platform, I realized I hadn’t met the final challenge yet. I had to jump into vacant air with only the ropes to support me. As I gazed out over the tops of the trees, one thought came to mind, “I can do this—Chad—for you.” And I did! (To read the whole story, visit “Articles” at my website: Making the choice gave me a great sense of accomplishment, and it made me realize that I had the power to overcome, or grief could destroy the rest of my life.

Find One Thing That Makes You Happy—and Grab It
Spend a few moments everyday doing something that makes you happy, even if it is a small moment like a walk in the garden, a phone call to a friend, or a warm cup of coffee with a good book. When you create your mood for the day with comfort and pleasantries, it’s easier to find happiness in the day.

Think about things you did in the past that made you happy. Was it a job (not the title)? Was it a trip or doing a special activity? Was it volunteering at a church, a civic event, a hospital, or sporting event? Was it learning something new? Was it meeting new people and learning about their lives? Look at the clues and determine possible new choices or ways to revitalize forgotten past experiences.

When Chad died, I took up writing again. As a young adult, I had written poems and short stories, but I always said I had nothing to write about. Oh, the wealth of feelings and stories I now have to share. I found volunteering made me feel useful. I learned how to golf (poorly for sure), gained more knowledge on personal computer software, and tried faux painting and new recipes.

We are planted in life with diverse elements, elements that can be either friend or foe. It is our choice how to use those elements to help us grow. Many of the plants in my garden have survived incredible odds. It is my wish that I continue to learn from them by blooming where I am planted.

Reprinted with permission Grief Digest, Centering Corporation, Omaha, NE, 866-218-0101

The Grieving Detective


Paul Brustowicz

I got hooked on Nordic noir when I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. There is murder and mayhem all over Scandinavia. Detectives Wallander in Sweden, Harry Hole in Helsinki and Carl Morck in Copenhagen, have all helped me pass many mindless hours as their audio books keep me company on the exercise machines at the Y. However, it seems that I can’t even enjoy a detective novel without grief popping up.

These Nordic mystery writers seem to thrive on grief without ever mentioning it. Detective Morck lost a partner in a shoot-out before he was assigned to Department Q. Every book in the series revisits the loss and how Morck processes his grief.

Harry Hole is an alcoholic drug-addicted detective who also lost a partner. And journalist Michel Blomquist is playing detective for a grieving millionaire mogul whose niece disappeared over twenty years ago in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Detective Erlendur in Reykjavik is my latest find. The author, Arnaldur Indridason, has a series of books with Erlendur, the cranky, obstreperous and smarter-than-everyone-else detective.

In Voices, the murder of a former choirboy in a hotel basement is solved but not before Arnaldur takes us through the history of the victim, backgrounds of some possible perpetrators and more revealing details about Erlendur’s past. The story was excellent but it was the characters and their grief that caught my attention.

Erlunder is in his fifties and has unresolved grief over the death of his younger brother when they were both lost in a blizzard as kids. The mother blamed the father; the father blamed himself and Erlunder wondered why he survived.
Erlunder’s estranged daughter is in her 20’s, single and grieving a seven month miscarriage due her drug-addictions. Erlunder is grieving this loss, too, along with the estrangement.

The sister of the victim grieves twenty years of her lost life since she took over care of their paraplegic father. The victim’s father grieves the loss of his fame and fortune due to an act of nature that kept his son from becoming famous. He too was estranged from his child and could care less that he is dead. The characters are complex to say the least.

There’s a scene where Erlunder is listening to the choirboy’s recording of Ave Maria. The boy’s voice is so mesmerizing that Erlunder is soon caught up in a reverie and memories of the blizzard, “pangs of conscience” over losing his brother, his father’s tears and “the heavy sorrow that he knew would never be completely forgotten”.

This is not a book review and all I say is that Indridason captures the real world of grief and loss. I hope that it is imagination at work and not from real life. Although, the advice given most often to writers is, to write what you know about. Amen.

The Problem with Vacation: You Have to Go Home



Paul Brustowicz

Advice to the bereaved comes hot and heavy during those first months after a loss.  Most of it is well meaning and benign.  Inevitably someone will suggest going away.  “It will be good for you to get away.  Take your mind off all this stuff.”  Someone might even offer their time-share or frequent flyer miles as a gift. Who could say “No”?

It’s been a pleasant vacation.  You’ve read a few books. Slept in every day. Had leisurely breakfasts. Napped every afternoon.  Sipped a few adult beverages in the evening. Walked on the beach or on the mountain trail. You had some serious self time, time to think, reflect and maybe pray. Now its time to stuff your suitcase and rush to the airport for the flight home.  Here’s the problem, when you walk through the front door nothing has changed.

You throw the suitcase on the bed and look around.  You wander from room to room dropping little sighs here and there.  The pictures haven’t moved.  The furniture is still the same. Everything is still in the fridge. You swipe your finger on the bookcase, only the dust is new.  There is supposed to be someone there to welcome you.

Someone to share the vacation with: the story about climbing over the big guy in the center seat, the luggage mixup and the crappy tee shirt that cost too much. Not to mention the photographs. Who is going to be there for your show and tell?

Did your grief take a vacation with you? Of course not.  Your loved one was with you all the way and you probably had some grief moments on vacation.  It is normal.  What someone forgot to mention, is that you have to come home.  And when you come home you just might find yourself back at the starting line for grief.

So have a good time.  Plan your vacation.  Enjoy your vacation.  Just think ahead to the return trip and be prepared.