Monthly Archives: October 2014

Remembrance and “Book of Life” Film




Do you long for “built-in” ways of remembrance for someone you love?   The most common lament I hear from families is frustration over the subtle, and not-so-subtle silencing that emerges after the death of a loved one.  “Don’t talk about your sorrow,” counseled a widow in a letter to my mom after the death of my father. “People don’t want to hear it.”  Believing her, she privately grieved the end of a sixty-year marriage.


Also, in America’s mourning-avoidant culture, family and friends often hesitate to mention a deceased loved one for fear they will upset us.  Yet, most families long to feel more freedom to speak openly about the one they love.


Perhaps that is why I found the new film The Book of Life so enchanting.  Drawn from the Hispanic tradition of remembering loved ones during the Day of the Dead celebrations, Mexican director Jorge Gutierrez creates a dazzling animated musical comedy and adventure film.  With gorgeous visuals, the plot encourages the importance of “The Land of the Remembered” where spirits live on as long as loved ones preserve their memory.  In contrast, great sadness awaits those relegated to the Land of the Forgotten.  Through an explosion of color and movement, it shows children growing in understanding that death is a part of life, and that remembering loved ones strengthens family bonds.



I recall the first time I saw the strange sugar skulls, skeletons, and Pan de Muerto bread in bakeries while traveling in Mexico City.  “What in the world are these?” I wondered.  Then I learned of the Day of the Dead, which originated in Mexico and is now celebrated throughout the world on October 31, and Nov 1 and 2.  This tradition gives Hispanics a yearly “built in” cultural ritual to recognize family members and friends who have died. Usually, although these vary by villages and countries, the 1st of November is the Dia de los Inocentes or Dia de los Angelitos. This day is given to remember deceased infants and children, the little angels. This also parallels All Saints Day in the Catholic tradition.  November 2 parallels All Souls Day  and celebrates adults who are deceased.






Families plan far ahead on how to decorate graves and build ofrendas (altars) in preparation for a gathering of family and friends coming to remember and pray for those who have died.  Vibrant Mexican marigolds, candles, memorabilia from the deceased, sugar skulls, favorite candies, drinks,photographs and breads all add a festive personal touch.  Toys often decorate the children’s graves.  It gives families a time to reminisce, picnic, party, tell anecdotes, laugh, and pray.  One hope is that the deceased’s spirit will come back to visit and continue the spiritual bond in the family.


I was fascinated to see a big display of colorful Day of the Dead house decor in our local World Market this year as Halloween and Day of the Dead dates merge.  My hunch and hope is that the conversations emerging from persons seeing the Book of Life will encourage all Americans to ask, “Don’t we all need more rituals that create ways of remembrance?”  Learning from the natural expressions around life and death within Hispanic communities just might break the silence surrounding families that live with loss and love.


Films often shape cultural change; could this be the enduring legacy of the Book of Life?  


For a joyful time of exuberant yet thoughtful entertainment, considering going to this kid-friendly film!  Then, I’d love to hear your thoughts.






Condolence Letters in an Online World

A condolence note from a friend I've kept for years

A condolence note I’ve kept for years


A favorite condolence note included only nine words. “Heart shattered lives….by no means escape God’s notice.”   After our daughter died in Bolivia, Suzette wrote this contemporary translation of Psalm 51 on a simple ecru card with her beautiful personal handwriting and signed it.  For years, I propped this treasured card on my desk, a visual assurance that we don’t walk on this pilgrimage alone.  Often such notes from friends help us heal along our journey in grief.


Parents I interviewed for Pilgrimage through Loss also shared how they’ve kept condolence notes for years.  “I am a private person,” said Lorie, the mother I mentioned in my post Helping Siblings Face Sorrow who had lost premature twins shortly after birth.  “I didn’t want a lot of visitors, but I loved each note sent to me.  They let me know the world cared.”   Many years later, she still has them in a basket at home.


But as the folk song says, “Times, they are a’changing.”


In an increasingly on-line world, people are turning to Facebook, texting, and on-line funeral memorial sites to offer another way of expressing one’s feelings.  It’s also the natural way of daily communication for many, especially young people.   For others, often older and accustomed to believing in the power of written notes, the thought of sending condolences to a grieving person via instant technology is often seen as heartless and lazy. “I’d hate it,” expressed one 70-year-old who values the courtesy of the written word.


But I saw another picture this week when a dear friend’s husband died suddenly of a stroke.  When Mary Beth left her home in the morning, her husband had enjoyed breakfast and was in his favorite chair reading the newspaper and listening to NPR.  By time she came home in the afternoon, she found him almost comatose.  When he didn’t revive, she called 911 and he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.  As you can imagine, the shock after 52 years of marriage is profound.


While I visited the next morning, amidst her tears she mentioned “I can hardly believe all the tributes to Dick coming in on Facebook. It’s how all the young people communicate these days.”  Many came from friends of her daughter Jeanne and late son Stephen. Her face lit up briefly as she said, “They are writing about how much they say our marriage has meant to them.”  Within less than 18 hours, because of Facebook, friends of their family living across the nation were pouring in their thoughts and feelings.  She clearly felt the gift of their compassion and remembrances.


“Our on-line world offers the immediacy of response,” said Jerry Sittser, author of A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Grief that explores the loss of his wife, daughter, and mother all in one car accident. “I know this immediacy can be meaningful.”   Because his family died before the onset of our virtual age, all the hundreds of condolences he and his three remaining children received came through personal letters.    “However, a heartfelt thoughtfulness emerges when someone takes the time to really sit down and discern what they hope will convey the depth of their love and memories and care for you.  I hope families still receive such gifts.  Notes and letters are also so tactile….you can hold them in your hand and reread and reread if desired.”


Not an Either-Or Choice


As customs change, it doesn’t have to be an ‘either-or’ choice.   We can give a genuine response to a Memorial Site on-line or to a Facebook tribute or text.  But later, we can also take the time to compose a heartfelt letter, or find a card that symbolizes what we want to convey to a family in grief.  Either way, what grieving persons often say they most appreciate are the anecdotal stories that friends share.  Such a collection of memories ease a broken-heart.  Long after the intensity of the memorial service and early weeks abate, a family is left with the emptiness of a loved one gone.  Receiving a written note offers a tangible way for families to linger and dwell in the love that surrounds them.  It’s a worthy investment of time and thoughtfulness.  Who knows, the letter you thoughtfully write…even if only nine words long…may be the gift a person treasures for years!


What do you think? 








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About Linda
For everyone, life sometimes brings shipwreck moments.

Ours happened when four friends woke us one beautiful May dawn to break the news that our 25-year-old married daughter Krista had died 7000 miles away while volunteering in Bolivia. Our hearts shattered, much like the shards of her bus that plunged over a mountain cliff.
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Desperate. Determined. Unwaveringly confident. In 1896, a Norwegian immigrant named Helga Estby dares to cross 3500 miles of the American continent to win a $10,000 wager. On Foot. BOLD SPIRIT: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America introduces readers to this fascinating journey of an audacious act of courage and love of a mother trying to save a family farm.

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Support for Parents

+ Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors On-line forum and website

+ American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) (Formerly Candlelighters Childhood Cancer)

+ Compassionate Friends

+ First Candle: Support for Stillborn and SIDS deaths

+ Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS)

+ MISS Foundation (also in Spanish) On-line support groups : Infant & toddler death and advocacy

+Parents of Murdered Children

+ TAPS: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: 1-800-959 3277 for survivors of military deaths