Dog Tag Memories

Dog tags.  For years they were always with me.  Day and night, dangling over my heart.  I don’t know what became of them once I took off my uniform for the last time.  I kept them for a while but they were lost somewhere, some time ago, in a move from here to there.  

Mine were from the Vietnam era, the 1960s and 70s.  We didn’t have the fancy silencers on ours that they have today, those little coverings around the edges that keep them quiet.  Ours did tend to clink together, easily giving away your position if you were trying to be stealthy.

They always give you two of them, you know.  One stays with your body and the other goes back for the identification record.

I’m mentioning all of this because in the United States, we are going to celebrate Memorial Day this weekend.  I know many other countries have a similar day when they pause to reflect upon the sacrifices that brave men and women have made to keep others free.

Let us remember not only those who gave their lives, but those who lost their lives in other ways when they came back so damaged that they are now homeless and unable to adjust to civilian life.

The wounds of war run deep and can be so very hard to close.

How many of you have suffered the loss of a family member or close friend?  How many of you have memorabilia, like dog tags, or a flag, or medals?  Do you have a story to tell?

With deep love and respect,


Grief Can Be Scary

This post was written by Stephen Moeller, Grief Recovery Specialist.  It was published on October 23, 2017 on the Grief Recovery Method, A Grief Support Blog.

Photo by Chris Donner

Most of us deal with grieving experiences on a regular basis and never realize it! While most people associate grief with death, it’s something that reaches far beyond that narrow focus. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to every change we experience in life. Many of those changes are so small that, while we have feelings attached to those events, we do not label them as grief.

Most of us learn to bury our emotional pain at an early age, because, without their even realizing it, our parents have told us to do just that. Think back to an early loss that caused you to cry. It may have been a lost treat, toy or even a balloon. In all likelihood, your parents told you, “Don’t feel bad,” and probably added, “We will get you a new one.” Now ask yourself, when they first said those words, did you feel any better? Perhaps you felt somewhat better if they were able to quickly replace it with an identical copy, but in those first moments you still felt sad.

That discounted grief you felt in those first moments helped set the stage for how you would deal with grief and loss for the rest of your life. As you dealt with more losses, at that early age, you probably heard those same words many times. The message that you internalized, again without realizing it, was that showing feelings of sadness was not the right thing to do and you simply stuffed those feelings inside. This is hardly a unique experience. With these additional losses, you were likely given intellectual reasons why you should not feel bad. While that might not have helped you feel any better, the logic that was used further convinced you to discount the impact of each loss.

What you did not understand, because there was no one to tell you, is that grief is emotional and not intellectual! A grieving person may try to deal with their feelings in their head, but that offers little solace. Grievers have broken hearts, not broken heads.

How do people store grief energy?

Perhaps the best way to describe what is happening to you, when you continue to stuff those feelings of emotional pain of loss, is with an analogy.

Think about a large mixing bowl. Every time you stuff another painful emotional experience, rather than releasing it, it is like adding water to that bowl. Sometimes, you are adding a few drops. Other times you add a teaspoon or a cup of water, depending on the emotional intensity of the loss. As time passes, you are slowly filling up that bowl. In a sense, just as you see there is less unfilled space in that bowl, in your heart, you have less space for joy in your life. The process of filling this bowl is so gradual, as you store more losses inside, you never notice that it is getting heavier and heavier. Then, one day, you experience another loss that causes your bowl to overflow.

All of us, at one time or another, have had a moment when we found ourselves overreacting to something that has happened. In that moment, you cannot help adding a little more volume to your voice or being more physical in how you respond to your situation. Sometimes you might even realize that you are over reacting, but you just cannot help it, because it feels so good! It’s in those moments that your emotional bowl is so full that you cannot help but shake it to splash out some of that water. You are a little out of control, and have no tools to relieve that pressure that has been building up inside.

That lack of control is what makes grief scary!

Most of us develop the ability to try to control lives and emotions. That is one part of the socialization process. When you are deeply grieving a loss, it’s then that you feel a loss of control. Suddenly, you cannot control your feelings and that can be overwhelming. You might find yourself feeling sad and/or crying without any ability to stop. You might find that things that were once important no longer have any meaning. These are among the many common reactions people have to grief. This can be scary, since this is different than what you have experienced before. It can make you afraid of your future, since, due to that loss, it’s likely not the future you had planned.


What actions do we take to deal with that fear?

When feeling so overwhelmed, there are two different directions that grievers take.

The first is to start looking for physical actions you can take to feel better. It might be having a drink or taking medication. Some turn to food or exercise, while others find temporary relief in gaming of some kind. The list of possibilities is endless. The problem is that these only offer a measure of relief while you are doing them. Once you are done, that emotional pain tends to resurface. These activities are called Short Term Energy Relieving Behaviors. They offer short-term relief, but no lasting sense of well-being.

The other activity that many turn to is to seek out a support group. (If that “short-term” relief has grown into a grief issue of its own, it might be a group to help you deal with this new problem!)

Independent support services can be very helpful, if they are properly directed. The problem with most of these groups is that you will not know how effective it is until you participate. Some of these groups fail in that try to assist you by exploring your problem from an intellectual perspective. As was mentioned before, no amount of logic will help if it does not direct you to taking action concerning the underlying emotional issues of loss. Other groups can unintentionally focus on supporting your emotional pain, rather than helping you find direction beyond its power. After my cousin’s husband died, following a brief illness, she joined a group where everyone seemed intent on convincing everyone else that their personal loss was the biggest. She left the meeting feeling worse than when she arrived, because the others in the group discounted her emotional pain. Neither of these types of groups offer any level of “grief relief” or support in the long run.

Where can you find real support and assistance?

A Certified Grief Recovery Specialist has undergone specific training to help you take emotional action to deal with the underlining issues that make your personal grief so overwhelming. They understand the power of loss, because they have also dealt with the grief in their own lives as part of their training. They understand the definition of grief as being about the emotional pain of loss, rather than being an intellectual issue. A trained Specialist will walk with you as you take the necessary actions to deal with your own emotional pain, rather than just telling you why you should not feel bad. He or she will help you to safely drain that bowl of emotional pain that you have filled over your lifetime.

Hugs, Cee



When I went through the certification training to teach the Grief Recovery Method, I had a personal moment of enlightenment.  I discovered that living with loss forced me into isolation.  And with each successive loss in my life, isolation become more and more my modus operandi, my way of living life.

I thought I was so clever to analyze the patterns of loss and come up with that revelation, until the instructor pointed out that he had written that on the white board for us during the very first day of class.  His comment had gone right over my head, until I stumbled across it by accident while doing my homework.

I didn’t come up with that on my own, but I did live it for decades without realizing it.  Now I hear people in my groups come to the same clarity of understanding.  Isolation is the most common trait of grieving people.  Why?  Because grieving people make us uncomfortable so we tell them to get over it, to move on, to get busy, to get a life, to get over it.  It doesn’t matter if the griever is dealing with death, divorce, or any of the other seventy-two losses we have on our list, people don’t want to hear it.  It makes them uncomfortable to see how close their lives are to that kind of pain.

So grievers end up shunned by society, pushed away by their co-workers who need them to be normal and pulling their weight, ignored by all the people who are busy getting on with things.  They learn to live a life of “less than” the way they were before their loss.

What I also learned in my Grief Recovery training is that there are ways of breaking out of isolation.  We can   see this trait in ourselves and change how we respond to loss and life.

Have you ever felt isolated?  Can you trace that feeling back to a loss in your life?




I can’t hear you any more

Something I hear quite often from the grieving parents and children I work with is that they can’t remember what their loved one sounded like.  They have plenty of pictures and other mementos, but they are missing a voice.  I’ve seen children become quite upset by that, as if their parent will be truly gone only when they are no longer heard.

A voice.  Something we take for granted until we no longer hear it saying, “I love you.”  Or telling a story or joke.  Or helping you talk through a troubling time in your life.  Or giving you encouragement when you need it the most.

The quality of a voice.  How it sounds when a person is getting sleepy, or excited, or happy or sad.

If you would like to have a voice to remember, here is a wonderful article on “Grief and Oral History” to get you started.  Or you can visit StoryCorps for some good ideas of recording your own family’s voices.  Start now before your world becomes too silent.

Many hugs!





Take a Laughter Break

When we work through our losses it can feel like our lives can be too heavy to endure and we often find ourselves overwhelmed with our day to day life.  One way Chris and I have found to help on those days is to take a laughter break and just be gentle with ourselves.

Since I had a chronic illness for well over 30 years, Chris and I have found ways of relieving some of the daily stress.  One thing we do the hour or two before we go to sleep at night, we don’t watch the TV news since it is usually violent or depressing.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there were at least one news station that reported all the good things people do or the funny things that happen in the world?  That would be worth watching at nights.  We also don’t watch any violent TV shows either.  We watch lighthearted shows or comedies.  When we go to bed we are fairly content and it helps us get a peaceful night’s rest.

The saying goes “laughter is the best medicine”.  Laughter gives us a break from our pain.  Laughing at something even for 30 seconds goes a long ways to healing our hearts.  Having the ability to laugh tells me that even if I am feeling sad or I am stuck in grief, I’m capable of feeling happy and healthy.  That 30 seconds of laughter will soon last for an entire minute.

Here is one of my favorite comedians.  I hope you enjoy your laugh break for the day.

This is my entry to WordPress Daily prompt of Laughter.

Hugs, Cee




Baby Steps

It’s taken years, but Cee has convinced me that taking baby steps is much better than trying to quantum leap over life’s challenges.  She’s so smart!  Baby steps, to me, were things people did when they were sick or feeble.  Not so!  There is a wonderful advantage to breaking things down into tiny steps instead of trying to take the world by storm.

I was reminded of this today as I listened to an inspirational audio.  The young woman who was speaking asked the listener to relax, and take a few deep breaths, then remember something or someone who brought you joy or made you feel good.  Then she said that if the thing you brought to mind was something big, like a person, you were to break it down into something easier to appreciate.  Break it down into baby steps.  Think of the person and what you appreciate about them.  A smile?  A silly sense of humor?  A caring touch?  A good hug?  She said that the small things will stay with you longer.  I liked that idea of baby stepping through appreciation.

As I went through my day, I practiced baby stepping through appreciation.  I loved the smell of the fresh air after a gentle rain.  I noticed that some or our irises have opened, and I truly appreciated their beauty.  It’s been a fun day of baby steps.

The energy generated by those baby steps of appreciation sent ripples out to other people.  When I stopped for coffee, the barista recognized me, asked my name and introduced herself.  Merissa, you have a beautiful smile.  Thank you for asking my name.

In the next store, the young man who was checking me out kidded me that I must really like him because I always come through when he’s on duty.  He introduced himself as well, and I will be sure to greet Jacob by name from now on.  Cee reminded me that I had previously pointed out his “You Matter” silicon band, and mentioned that I, too, wear one for suicide prevention.  Thank you, Jacob, for brightening my day.

No matter where we are in loss and the feelings of grief, we can still take time to pause and take a baby step back to stability, to happiness, to wellbeing.  Focus on the little things, one after the other.  Baby steps will keep you moving forward, at least a little bit at a time.

(About the picture… I found a lot of pictures of human babies taking little steps, and they were cute pictures, but there was something about this duckling that made me giggle, so I just had to use it.)

Many hugs and a big smile,







Tranquility of Mind

Yesterday I was reading something and the author used the word “recollection”.  That word struck a chord in me, so I had to look it up.  Merriam-Webster says recollection means “tranquility of mind”.  That’s how I feel when I think of my history now.  I can recollect my losses and I no longer feel the pain or emotions of loss and grief.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite of it.

Chris has always been amazed that I have fond memories of childhood.  My childhood was not the sort to leave anyone with fond memories.  I was very sick as a child.  I was molested as a child.  I should be still living in the pain of my past, but I’m not.

That’s what I like about doing your own grief work.  You can change your past, and by doing so, change your future.  Yes, I still remember the bad times I had as a child, but I processed those.  I even showed you how I figured out how to process as a very young child, by writing my story of my dog’s death.

This photo Chris took of me about 15 years ago when we were visiting Oregon for the first time. Photo taken at Agate Beach, Oregon.

This is the promise of the grief work that we do ourselves and that we teach people to do:  you can own your entire life and be proud of your life.  It’s yours.  Every experience you’ve had is what makes you the person you are, strong, compassionate, loving.  To do your grief work, you have to let the love back in.

You don’t have to just live in the good and deny the bad.  It’s all there.  There’s no shame, no regret.  The pain disappears.  The memories are still there, but your recollection will be “tranquility of mind”.

I guarantee it.

Hugs, Cee