Author: Kim Forbes

Introduction to new Retirementor, Dorian Mintzer

Retire Successfully website is enormously privileged and proud to announce that it will be featuring a new Retirementor blogger, Dorian Mintzer.

More familiarly known as Dori, she is co-author of the hugely popular book, The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: Must-Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together. This book was recently nominated in the Best Retirement Book category for the 2017 Best Senior Living Awards, and is available in the Chartered Library.

Through her book, Dori guides couples in having the courageous conversations that they need to have in anticipation of, or already in, retirement.  Questions such as when and where you expect to retire, what ‘retirement’ means to you and how the money will be managed are difficult to discussion but essential to create a successful second half.

Dori understands the challenges herself.  Married to David, 13 years her senior, she is a writer, coach, lecturer, and founder of two virtual communities (the Boomers and Beyond Special Interest Group and Revolutionize Your Retirement Interview with Experts Series.  She is not near retirement!  David, a physician, has reduced his working hours to three days a week, and is home more than ever before.

How to balance expectations and demands?

Have the vital retirement puzzle conversations.  If you need guidance, keep an eye out for her monthly blogs on Retire Successfully’s website.

Your views on inheritance to children

Thank you to each person who responded to the article on leaving too big a legacy to your children in the form of money and possessions.  Your opinions have expanded the topic for further discussion and insight. – Kim Forbes

 Practical advice from Brian Herman:

There is another way around the legacy problem. Take out a last survivor policy which the kids will own and pay for.

The advantages of this are the following:

  • The kids pay for their own legacy.
  • The amount is up to them.
  • Premiums can be increased to increase the value of the legacy (again, up to the kids).
  • Premiums can be stopped when the first spouse dies, or continued.
  • Because the parents no longer need to provide a legacy, they can spend their money on themselves without concerning themselves about a legacy.
  • There is a chance in the next budget for the estate duty threshold to be increased to R15 million (per couple in a marriage) before estate taxes and capital gains tax will need to be paid.

Comment from Harold, in view of our South African context:

Interesting article and I agree with most of the sentiments. My comments are based purely in a South African context assuming that my children will live in S.A. for as long as it is economically viable for them to remain here. I understand this is not a political forum but the current situation has a strong bearing on my views on what and how much I would like to bequeath to my children.

I find that as a family we were able to get by with a lot less many years ago. The purchasing power of our rand diminishes each day as the political situation deteriorates with not much hope of the situation turning around anytime soon or the distant future.

So what has all of this got to do with how much or little one needs to leave to your children.

I come across many highly educated people without work or much hope finding any anytime soon. Against this background I believe I need to contribute sufficiently towards a venture of sorts to get them on a sound footing and then allow them to grow and develop this further. Depending on the responsibility demonstrated by them I decide on the need and amounts to disburse further.

Any amounts in excess of that needed to get them on a sound footing would need to be prioritized against the many charitable needs in the Country.

Another Chartered Wealth Solutions client’s view:

(This client jokingly said that he was the very well-dressed parent in a Ferrari sending his response from his holiday home in France while drinking champagne in the jacuzzi!  Lovely sense of humour …)

We attended a meeting at Chartered House some time ago with the aim of ensuring that our will was well specified to avoid fights among heirs. When asked for my opinion, my answer was “NOTHING” (as your article suggests). If there was something left over, I would change it into Travellers Cheques and take it with me to wherever I would end up.

Here is my thinking:

  • The earning capacity of the youngsters today is unreal compared to “our days”. Many costs are proportional but not today’s earnings for the younger generation -totally out of proportion.
  • I have thought about paying off a bond but that would open the door for loans again against the access bond.
  • Touching pensioners’ savings is an absolute NO NO! I have come across too many pensioners who have assisted (even selling their houses and having to downgrade) their children who have got themselves into deep trouble. I cannot recall one who repaid his parents no matter how badly they had been affected.
  • My parents never assisted me in any way when I was struggling; they could not afford to.
  • My mother went for an interview after I left school; she then drove me to Rand Airport, stopped in front of Hangar No 2 and said: “This is where you will be working!” I left after 51 years if service. So THANKS, MOM! I will always be thankful to my dear dad for sending me to a private school for a good grounding. I knew what his salary was and the monthly school fee. Inheritance need not always be in a monetary form. My parents worked hard for their money so let them enjoy it.
  • I inherited my father’s ID Book, ashtray and cigarette-making machine and about a thousand rand from my mother when she passed on (originally R12,000 but reduced by legal costs).I have no regrets about being forced to stand on my own two feet – a hard lesson with many uphills, but we have managed to retire very comfortably.
  • Don’t get me wrong: I am a parent and just as my mother would ask me when getting into the car (up to age of about 60): “Have you been to the toilet?”, so one never stops loving and caring for their children who grow up so quickly … but leave home so slowly.
  • PS To my heirs there will be a 15% penalty every time I hear “Hey slow down you are spending my inheritance”.

From Bridget Randall:

So-called wealth and warm gifts can cause another problem. Mothers, in particular, can create problems by giving endless hand-outs, and a financially ignorant child making no provision for the future of his family, due to his expectation of what he would inherit, despite warnings from his siblings.  And a financially unaware parent can create expectations that way exceed what will be inherited.

Those of the second or third generation group, especially where a family trust is involved, can be pretty clueless – not all are financially astute.

I think financial education is one of the greatest gifts we can give a child or grandchild, even if it has to be simplified; for example, showing an old book you bought new, say, a R3.50 recipe book and the equivalent price on a new one, or for a young adult, showing just what their salary is worth if it was from investment money at 5% drawdown currently.  This really shakes some of them.  Unrealistic advertising does not help, such as a young adult getting one million disability cover and showing his family living a good life – total rubbish.

Finally, from Chartered Wealth Solutions financial planner, Christina Forman:

A brilliant article. Most parents struggle with the questions raised in the article, and more so where some children are more financially successful than others, and seemingly do not ‘need’ anything from their parents according to the less financially fortunate members of family.

The best legacy we can leave our children is to teach them sound values, respect for themselves and others, and above all love and care. The legacy of monies should be a bonus.

The amazing client feedback shared in this post was received in response to Kim’s initial blog post:

Finding passion, purpose and a paycheque after 50

Our Retire Successfully Retirementor, Lynda Smith, founder and CEO of The Refirement Network, was recently interviewed on Radio Today, by show-host, Natashia Bearam.

In the interview, Lynda encourages older people who still want to work not to be afraid of technology and to be willing to learn from younger people (even grandchildren!) in order not to feel intimidated by the extent to which technology, especially social media, has changed the workplace.

She also poses a range of questions regarding the kind of work you may be considering: for example, are you seeking opportunities in a new industry or do you want to continue in the industry in which you have been working to date?  Do you want to be an entrepreneur or a consultant or an employee?

Lynda highlights the value of network – more than ever, relationships are a crucial, though intangible, asset in building a career.

Finally, she advises that you look at who you are, what you offer and what is the world looking for … and then how you put it all together.

Lynda is a coach who can help you answer those questions and guide you in finding your purpose in the new world of work, in your relationships and with yourself.

You can listen to the interview by clicking here.

Lynda’s work focuses around helping Baby Boomers plan for their next season of life and identify where they can still add value in business and society. If you enjoyed this post on Lynda you may be interested in some of her personal blogs. Click here to access them.


Rearrange the six groups of scrambled letters to form words, then decide where each word fits in the square grid (up or down).  One letter has been given to help get you started.

Answers to the Word Set Game and the Rebus below:

Rebus: the cricketing side: West Indies







Answers to this Solve-a-Square can be accessed in The Retiremeant Tip sent Friday 28 July. Click here to access the answers.

10 Reasons solo travel is incredible – and why you should do it!

Travelstart writer, Rebecca Houston, is sold on solo travel … and gives us so many reasons why!

  1. Have the freedom to be as spontaneous as you like

Travelling solo means you can go where the adventure takes you. If you make a new friend you can change your plans as you like without worrying about derailing others’ travel plans.

  1. You’ll focus on the destination

Don’t come back from Rome with the memory of a silly argument over where to eat. Travelling alone gives you the opportunity to really connect with the people and places around you without the safety blanket and insulation of a travel buddy.

  1. You have complete financial control

When you travel with friends and family, budgeting can be a headache. Someone might want to eat out most nights while someone else might want to go the ‘two-minute noodles’, backpackers’ route.

When you travel alone you don’t have to worry about pleasing everyone or breaking the bank.

  1. Challenge yourself

“Most travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers…” – Paul Theroux

Get out of your comfort zone when you travel alone.

You’ll need to think on your feet and you’ll have to learn to rely on your own resourcefulness – an invaluable skill that will give you a huge boost of confidence.

  1. Give yourself a proper holiday

Solo travel is a break from compromise. When you travel solo you get to make the decisions! It’s a rare opportunity to be a little selfish, in a good way. You call the shots. You don’t have to worry about pleasing everyone or breaking the bank.

  1. Give yourself time to reflect

“The inner journey of travel is intensified by solitude” – Paul Theroux

Take time out from your hectic schedule to reconnect with your inner thoughts. A slower pace of life, with time to take in the sunset, to read, to climb a mountain, to drink a coffee in the sun at a sidewalk cafe- these are the rewards of solo travel.

Solo travel gives you time to rejuvenate and have a holiday free from distractions and reminders of work stress.

  1. Once you’ve done it once you’ll be hooked forever

It sounds intimidating but once you’ve taken the leap and made your first solo journey (something that a growing number of modern travellers are choosing to do) you’ll be hooked forever!

  1. You never return the way you left

“You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back,” writes Paul Theroux.

Travel to discover the new you and to open your eyes to different modes of life. Solo travel is an opportunity to embrace new cultures and to immerse yourself in a whole new world. Volunteer when you travel or choose to stay longer in one place to really get to know its daily rhythms and nuances.

  1. Experiences are way more valuable than things

Studies have shown that the secret to happiness is spending money on experiences, not things. Recent research from San Francisco State University found that the thrill of purchasing things quickly fades but travel memories last a lifetime. When you invest in solo travel you’re investing in an experience you’ll get to keep forever.

Solo travel refreshes, it challenges, it’s an adventure, an opportunity to expand your horizons, to discover stuff about yourself and the world you never knew…

As the celebrated American travel writer Paul Theroux advises:

                 “There are three basic rules of travelling. Travel on the ground. Travel alone when possible. Keep notes. That’s it.”

  1. Travelling solo doesn’t necessarily mean travelling alone

It may seem counter-intuitive but when you travel alone it’s often easier to make friends. Locals and fellow travellers are more open to speaking to a solo traveller, and you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to start a conversation with someone.

The best ways to travel solo:

By rail

“Anything is possible on a train: a great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night’s sleep, and strangers’ monologues framed like Russian short stories.” ― Paul Theroux

Railway travel is a wonderful way to experience a country through its landscapes and through encounters with people on the train. You also have lots of time to stare dreamily out of the  window, read and reflect on your travels.

By package tour

This may sound counter-intuitive, however, if you’re not ready to go it alone completely and just wish to dip a toe into solo travel, why not consider an organised tour? You’ll meet like-minded fellow travellers but also have time to yourself.

Questions to ask before you choose a retirement village

Deciding on the right time to move to a retirement facility can be a difficult and emotional choice.  There are ways to make it easier, and finding out all you can about the accommodation that you are considering can be both empowering and stress-relieving.  Here are some common questions that will help you to match your own lifestyle needs to the best facility.

Financial considerations:

  • Are you buying a unit outright or is this a life-rights/tenancy purchase? What rental options are there?
  • Who is responsible for resale?
  • What deposit is required? What upfront, non-refundable administration fee to secure the unit?
  • If life rights, what is the sliding scale? For example, if you have been there between one and two years, you get 90% back, and if you have been there between three and five years, you get 70% back, and so on.
  • If life rights, do you get a percentage of the original price you paid or current market value?
  • Can I leave my unit to my children?
  • How does costing work when you move from independent living to assisted or frail care?
  • What is the levy and what does it include?
  • What is the levy for assisted living and frail care and what does that include?
  • Are laundry costs included, if you need to use the service?
  • What are the costs of meals at the restaurant, if there is one?
  • Any additional costs to take into account?
  • How often do costs escalate?

Exploring options

  • Does the facility have a respectable website with clear contact details?
  • Does the facility run visitors’ days for prospective residents or do you need to make an individual appointment?
  • How do you get onto the waiting list and is there a cost involved?
  • How long is the waiting list and how does the process work?
  • Are there any conditions regarding applying – medical examination, age limit or health limit?
  • Does the list apply any preferential criteria, for example, on the basis of religion, and, if so, what is required by the facility to qualify for the preference?
  • What is availability? Of couples, single occupation, assisted living, frail care?

The facility and its rules:

  • Are pets allowed? What are the conditions?
  • Can you cultivate your own garden?
  • How many garages are there allocated per unit and how close is it to the unit? Is there an additional cost?
  • Is there a ‘clubhouse’ or entertainment area? Can you rent this and how much is it?
  • Is there a restaurant, a lifestyle centre, a hairdresser or spa, a chapel, a library?
  • What activities are offered? Church services, charity or hobby clubs?  Exercise classes?
  • What is the care available onsite, for example, can I have a nurse visit daily?
  • What happens when one half of a couple needs frail care while the other is still living in the cottage?
  • Is there an Alzheimer’s facility?
  • Are there regular visits by a doctor, a podiatrist, and so on?
  • Am I able to make alterations to my unit?
  • Is there transport to and from shopping centres, hospitals, etc.?
  • Is there an option to stay here temporarily, for example, during convalescence?
  • Can I host a visitor to stay over? Is there such accommodation available in the village?
  • I have a down syndrome/disabled child. Can he/she live in this unit until his/her passing, if we make financial provision for that?

Personal considerations

  • When is the right time or age to commit to moving?
  • Why sell the family home and downsize when we’re still fit and mobile?
  • How will we cope with having to let go of many personal possessions, with their precious memories?
  • Can we afford to move?
  • Why even consider moving into a community of “golden oldies”?
  • When we give up our independence, surely we’ll start ageing overnight?
  • Won’t we be bored, boring and end up just being grumpy?
  • What will I do, if I find myself on my own?
  • Why not just carry on here in our home, until we’re forced to make a final move?
  • How many times do we want to move or do we want to make this a once-only move?
  • If I decide to declutter, what do I do with all my stuff?

Why not to leave too much to your grown kids

Author of ‘Entitlemania’ Richard Watts suggests that leaving too generous an inheritance to your children potentially has a divisive and damaging effect on your family.  In this article, he argues for what some clients have told me is their philosophy for spending money in retirement: SKI, or even, SKIN … Spend Kids’ Inheritance, or Spend Kids’ Inheritance Now! As always with our content, we offer it for your interest, not as advice.

Somewhere in our DNA as parents, we believe it is an act of love, generosity, or for some, contrition, to leave our children an inheritance after we die. And the more money we leave, we think, the better! But despite the wisdom and warnings of historical philosophy, religious texts and psychology, we refuse to heed the whispers and acquiesce to our irrefutable belief that our children will both benefit from, and appreciate our gift.

Beware . . . For everything you give your child, you take something away.

Yet parents often adjust their retirement budget for food, shelter, travel and recreation so they can “leave a little something” to their children. And many, modestly surviving on Social Security, even feel a twinge of guilt if they exit the planet saddling their children with funeral and burial expenses.

How inheritances can cause permanent damage to families

How would you react if I told you that your children would never speak to each other again because you left your three kids your house? What if the son you designated as your executor or trustee seized control of your assets and was sued by his brothers and sisters? What if the family business you built during your life dismantles the family after you depart?

But you say, “No! Not my family!” To the contrary. In my 35 years of managing wealthy families every day, the incident of permanent damage occurring to a family is most of the time.

And just in case you believe your kids are going to be appreciative of the money you leave, it takes about three days of grieving for your children to consider your inheritance all theirs. Remembering that dear old Dad and Mom provided them a unique opportunity of financial security lasts about as much time as it takes the bank to clear the inheritance check.

Carnegie, Buffett, Gates and You

One of America’s richest men, Andrew Carnegie, wrote an essay in 1889 entitled The Gospel of Wealth and lamented: “I would as soon leave my son a curse as the almighty dollar.” Modern-day financial icons, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, similarly plan to leave relatively small portions of their massive estates to their children, choosing to promote their kids’ long-term emotional well-being instead of feeding their materialistic cravings.

Money is supposed to provide a security blanket, not a blank check. Your lifelong achievement in building a nest egg is like a dam being built across a stream. For you, a lake of financial security forms behind the dam. Downstream, your kids often nest, staying close enough to the stream to take advantage of the flow you permit from the lake. Too often, inheritance of any size is like a break in the dam. The kids downstream have no sense of controlling the flood, and all can be swept away.

So how do we fix this? And how should we think about what we leave our kids?

Changing the question we ask ourselves

Perhaps we need to change the question we ask ourselves from “How much is too much?” to “How little is too little?”

Do your kids expect you to hand over the loot? If they do, try this: Sit down with your children in a family meeting. Tell them Mom and Dad have decided to leave all of their money, excepting the personal belongings, to charity. Or an alternative would be to leave all of your money to a family foundation where the kids are the directors who would designate the money only to charities.

How would they react? If they say, “Great, Mom and Dad, it’s your money to do what you want!” you have probably raised kids that can control the cash. If, however, after the meeting, they secretly convene to discuss what they’ve concluded must be your newly-discovered early-onset dementia, perhaps you ought to rethink your intentions.

Cold Money and Warm Money

One afternoon at my office in Southern California, a family of three adult children in their 40s called for a meeting with their financially-successful parents and me. The oldest spoke on behalf of his siblings and began: “Mom and Dad, there is something called warm money and cold money. Warm money is money you give us with love, while you are alive, and you’re able to witness our appreciation of the gift. Cold money is the money we get, whether you like it or not, after you’re both dead.” There was a brief pause. He continued: “Your children would prefer to have more of the warm money.” The following week, Mom and Dad came to me and asked to revise their estate plan, giving their kids substantially less.

There are two parts to this debate: the process of your disbursing an inheritance and the amount you give for inheritance.

The first is simple. Do not let your kids be the executors and trustees of your will and trust. You will find this is contrary to most estate planning experts’ direction, but they only draft wills and trusts, they rarely deal with the aftermath.

And sell it all! Even the family business! Hard to say that out loud, isn’t it? But you must separate your kids from being involved with your estate upon your death. The best solution is to have an independent party liquidate everything except the personal property, then divide the proceeds by the number of your kids and give them each a check. Your family will soon realize your actions kept them together.

How much to leave

The second question of how much to give your adult children is a little trickier. How affected would your kids be if you left them nothing? Put another way, how dependent are your kids on your financial support? The irony is that the ones who do not need your money will probably be okay and the ones who do will most likely be negatively affected.

A suggestion is to leave half your estate to your kids and the other half to charities, allowing your kids to designate to which ones they choose to give the money. Doing this will leave a valuable life lesson to your kids that will be remembered.

The Coloured Stickers Story

As to the question of how to divide your personal property and memorabilia, my friend Mel had the best answer. His father had passed away and when his mother was dying, she asked Mel and his siblings each to choose a different colour of sticky paper dots. They were then asked in succession to put their coloured sticker on something in the house they’d like to have after their mother passed — furniture, antiques, jewelry, silver and family heirlooms.

Each time it was Mel’s turn, he waved his brothers and sisters on, skipped his turn and continued the conversation with his mother. When all the items in the house were tagged with dots, the kids circled around their mother. Mel’s mom asked: “Mel, don’t you want anything?” He carefully peeled off one yellow sticker from his unused sheet of dots and gently placed it on his mother’s forehead.

Perhaps this is your last act of “tough love.” Don’t turn a blind eye to the reality that even modest amounts of money carelessly given to your children can have unexpected and corrupting results.

Money is like a narcotic; a little more is always welcome and the last amount never quite fills your present need. Give your children enough that they do something, but not so much that they do nothing.

Your legacy, and perhaps theirs, is in your hands

The 8 worst things you can say to someone who is grieving

Ever found yourself tongue-tied when you are trying to comfort someone who is grieving.  Christy Heitger-Ewing, author and freelance writer, has written a worthwhile article on best things to say to those who are grieving. 

In this follow-up article, she warns us against the well-meaning things we say that actually have the opposite effect to the comfort we hope to achieve.

  1. “Cheer up. Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad.”
    After my mom died, people told me that she would hate to see me carrying around such pain and that, to honor her memory, I should stop being sad. Sure, Mom liked to see me happy, but for a period of time after she died, I simply couldn’t be happy. When you love deeply, you grieve deeply. Grievers need to be sad in order to get to the other side of grief.
  1. “Focus on all the blessings in your life.”
    While this message is optimistic and all, it’s not really what a grieving person wants to hear when his world has just been shattered. Even if a griever appreciates the good things in his life, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s reeling from a monumental loss.
  1. “She’s/he’s in a better place.”
    But here’s the problem: if my mom is there, she can’t be here. And I want her here. Call me selfish, but I want her here beside me, holding my hand, offering advice, giggling, singing and doing that humming thing that only she could do.
  1. “It’s been awhile since he/she died. It’s time you get over it.”
    You know how a week zips by for you whereas a week, from a toddler’s perspective, feels like an eternity? That’s kind of how grief time works. It’s skewed. A grieving person can look at a calendar and see that “X” amount of time has passed since their loved one died, but time is irrelevant when it comes to healing a broken heart. You can’t put a timetable on grief. It is ridiculous to suggest that anyone should hurry up and “get over” losing someone close.
  1. “Cherish all of the wonderful memories. They will bring you peace.”
    I think this statement is true, in time. But the last thing a newly grieving person wants to hear is to cherish the memories. When their heart is hurting, their mind spinning and faith broken, thinking about old memories guts them because they want to create new memories, which they can no longer do.
  1. “Pull yourself together because you need to be there for your kids.”
    No one expects a patient to hop off of the operating table after undergoing heart surgery so that she can fix her kids dinner. So please don’t make a grieving parent feel even worse by suggesting that she’s neglecting her children due to her grief. That’s just cruel.

Grief affects every aspect of someone’s physical and emotional health. It interferes with one’s ability to sleep, eat, concentrate, and function. No one has the right to ask another person to swallow her pain to focus on others. Doing so only prolongs grief. Kristi Smith, author of Dream: A Guide to Grieving Gracefully, says that transformation comes from first taking care of oneself. “Choose to help yourself, so that you can then turn around and help others,” says Smith. It’s kind of like the oxygen mask rule in airplanes: ensure your own breath before assisting those around you.

  1. “So, how ‘bout them Broncos?”
    Though it seems like you’re doing the griever a favor by keeping conversations superficial, what grievers need is someone willing to let them be real, someone not afraid to talk about the tough stuff, the sad stuff, the human stuff. They need someone who will sit and listen and maybe even cry with them. This isn’t saying you must never discuss sports or the weather. Just keep in mind that real healing comes from some of the heavier conversations.
  1. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now.”
    I would encourage you to do just that. Stop and think about how you would feel if you were faced with the griever’s circumstances. Consider their feelings. Contemplate their pain. Imagine their struggle. Doing so will spark empathy in you, the best thing you can offer someone who is hurting because when you empathise, the right words come more freely.

Read Christy Heitger-Ewing’s award-winning book Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat. Visit her author website at

The 8 best things you can say to someone grieving

I have found myself avoiding contacting grieving friends as I have been insecure about hurting them by what I say, or just unsure what to say at all. . I found this article by Christy Heitger-Ewing, freelance writer at the Huffington Post, a really useful guide to helping a friend while they are grieving. 

When someone close to you dies, you initially receive a good deal of advice and support. Some of it is helpful, some not. This piece by Christy Heitger-Ewing, writer for Huffington Post, offers suggestions for helpful things you can say to someone who is newly grieving.

  1. “I feel your pain.”
    This is not the same thing as, “I know how you feel,” which is a statement I would avoid uttering because even if you’ve shared a similar circumstance, everyone’s journey is uniquely their own. The words, “I feel your pain,” however, is an expression of empathy

In the book Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love: Daily Meditations to Help You Through the Grieving Process, authors Raymond R. Mitsch and Lynn Brookside maintain that the words “I feel your pain” are the four most helpful words uttered to a grieving person.

“No other single sentence does more to break down walls of isolation formed by deep sorrow and regret. When those words are merged with a touch or an embrace, they mend the heart and lift up downcast eyes. They tell the griever he is not alone in his grief.”

  1. “How about a hug?”
    I get that not everyone is touchy-feeling, but when I was newly grieving, I felt starved for hugs. I wanted to hug the UPS man who came to my door, my spin instructor after class. I wanted to hug my neighbor and her little dog, too. It was almost as if I was a china doll broken into pieces, and every hug offered a smidge of glue to help piece me back together.

Two weeks after my mom died, my son had an overnight zoo trip, with my husband a chaperone. I packed them up and waved goodbye. As they pulled out, an intense sense of loneliness settled into my soul. I remember going through my phone contacts, calling neighbors until one answered. “Can you come over and give me a hug?” I asked.

I probably sounded pitiful, but that’s what I needed right then and there. A hug wasn’t going to take away all my pain, but it helped get me through that difficult moment.

  1. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
    It’s direct. It’s honest. It gets to the point. It shows you care. Patti Fitzpatrick, a grief support facilitator and bereavement minister, notes, “Two simple but extremely helpful and healing solutions that anyone can do is to 1) show up, and 2) say, “I’m sorry for your loss. Period.”
  1. “I’m here for you.”
    Grief makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It’s hard to see someone you care about torn up emotionally. It’s natural to want to fix them, but that’s just not possible. The most helpful thing you can do is to offer to be there for someone hurting in whatever capacity they need.

Ben Keckler, the minister who runs my grief support group, explained this notion beautifully when he said, “When you’re grieving, you don’t want to be around people who will see through you. You want to be around people who will see you through.”

  1. “I’ll bring you some lasagna next Tuesday.”
    This is just an example. Offering to do something specific is an alternative to the usual phrase: “Let me know if you need anything.” People make this kind of open-ended gesture because they want to help and are not sure what the griever needs. But for those newly grieving, they often don’t know what they need, either — or they don’t have the energy to figure it out and then call you to request it.

That’s why it’s better to just make a specific offer like, “I’m headed to the grocery. I can bring you some milk and bread if you’d like.”

  1. “Would you like to talk about your loved one?”
    It’s natural to worry that bringing up the subject of the person who died, will make the griever sad. Actually, the opposite is true. When a person loses someone close to them, they continue to think about their loved one constantly. After several months have passed, the griever is astounded at how rarely people mention the person who died. It’s heartbreaking, really. So when you bring up a memory or share a story about the person who passed away, it lets the griever know others remember their loved one, too, and that’s really comforting.
  2. Ask, ‘How are you doing?’ Then really listen for the true answer.
    Making it clear that you’re asking for a real and honest answer and not just expecting the trite response of, “Oh, I’m fine,” promotes healing.

Keckler says that “fine” can be an acronym for “Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional” – certainly an apt description for those who are newly grieving because their feelings truly are all over the map. Sorting through them can be difficult, so it’s nice to have people in their life with whom they can share their genuine feelings.

A few months into my grief, I had figured out who my “safe” people were. Through conversations and interactions, I could tell which of my friends were okay with my being my authentic self and which were not. The “safe” ones checked in with me regularly. They sat with me and let me cry. They didn’t mind when I called them sobbing so hard that they could barely discern a word I was saying. They let me share openly, and that’s what I needed.

  1. Say nothing.
    I’m not suggesting you avoid the grieving person or that you should pretend you don’t know their loved one has died. That behavior would be hugely hurtful. I’m suggesting that you not be afraid to close your mouth and open your heart. Hold their hand. Offer them a
    tissue. Make a pot of coffee. Ask if they’d like to go for a walk. Let them lead the conversation. Often the biggest gift you can give a grieving person is permission to speak freely.

Mitsch and Brookside write, “So many of us are taught not to talk about our wounds. We absorb the message, spoken or tacit, that ‘talking doesn’t help,’ ‘weeping doesn’t change things,’ ‘talking about it will just make you sad.’ None of those statements is true. Talking about our sorrow does not increase our sorrow; it purges our sorrow.”

Read Christy Heitger-Ewing’s award-winning book Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat. Visit her author website.

Reframing tragedy

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, explains how suffering enabled him and his fellow prisoners to understand what they valued most in life, and therefore were able to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness for those things that we so often take for granted.

Imprisoned by the Nazis in 1944 for his Jewish origins, this Austrian psychiatrist described his three years in the concentration camps following his release.  Frankl’s philosophy regarding suffering, outlined in his book, challenges the notion that we must do our best to avoid suffering, and, if we can’t, to get away or through it as quickly as possible.  Equally, we cannot be grateful for or when suffering – it is a condition to be escaped or ‘fixed’.

Frankl acknowledges the value of suffering through his belief that cultivating gratitude in the midst of tragedy can lend meaning to that very suffering.  The conditions of extreme cruelty and deprivation laid the foundation for creating understanding for what was really important in life – and therefore to be grateful for those things – often miniscule – we readily take for granted.

Frankl also reframed his suffering in positive terms through kindness to others.  He records how some prisoners, though starving to death, chose to give their last pieces of cherished bread to others.  These selfless prisoners were the ones able to add deeper significance to an apparently hopeless and purposeless circumstance.

Not all prisoners were able to do this.

In an extract from his book, we find the secret: “In the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually. … the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”

Finally, Frankl asserts that it is those who held fast to their spiritual integrity were able to achieve spiritual freedom and purpose. “Often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation,” writes Frankl, “which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.”

Later, as a psychotherapist, Frankl taught his patients that quality of life depends, not on everything working out for us, or of escaping into a place of numbness and passivity, but in the determination to find purpose and meaning in and through difficult situations.  Acceptance of, not resistance to, life’s challenges is the way to gratitude and growth.