Robbie Miller Kaplan's Blog (218)

What not to do

A young woman who was eight months pregnant gave birth to a stillborn baby. Overcome with grief, she called her supervisor at work and requested he notify her colleagues by e-mail so she wouldn’t have to individually tell her devastating news. It seemed a simple request, but when she returned to work, she learned her supervisor did not notify her colleagues and they were each stunned when she painfully shared the news. Not knowing what to say or do, they avoided her and she felt shunned and…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on October 26, 2009 at 6:30pm — No Comments

What to expect at a Unitarian Memorial Service

The Unitarian faith is a practical religion that believes in economy. Most members cremate their dead and they hold memorial services that are a celebration of life, scheduled at a date convenient for the family.

Their memorial services are personal with favorite music and readings. The families are very involved in their planning and they often share funny and poignant stories of the deceased. Attendees are invited to participate so if you knew the deceased and have a story to…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on October 20, 2009 at 8:30am — No Comments

What not to say after a miscarriage

What is it about a miscarriage that makes it so difficult to say the right thing? Women who miscarry report that they’re frequently the target of callous and hurtful comments that dismiss or trivialize their loss. While the list of offenders includes friends, colleagues, and medical professionals, the worst culprits might surprise you; often family members, especially their own moms, mothers-in-law, sisters, and sisters-in-law.

Here’s a list of what you should NEVER say after a…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on October 13, 2009 at 7:30am — No Comments

How to make memorial donations

We honor the deceased by making donations in their memory. Many obituaries designate a charity or fund selected by the family, but what if the organization is one you’d prefer not to support or worse, in conflict with your values? Do you donate anyway or ignore the family’s request, making a donation to a charity or cause you support? And what if there is no indication of where to donate? How do you choose something appropriate?

Ask yourself, "Why am I making the donation?" Is it to…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on October 5, 2009 at 8:00am — No Comments

Are you empathetic or sympathetic?

The words sympathy and empathy are often thought to be the same, and yet they are distinct expressions.

In times of death, we often extend sympathy by sharing our sorrow for what’s happened. Sympathy cards are usually synonymous with condolence messages. When offering sympathy, we’re expressing concern for another’s feelings. Cards, notes, phone calls, e-mails, meals, and offers of assistance are all expressions of sympathy.

But you don’t offer empathy, you feel it. Empathy…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on September 24, 2009 at 10:00am — 1 Comment

Helping a child deal with loss

I saw Billy Crystal in his one-man show “700 Sundays” and was deeply touched by his personal story. He relates how his father’s untimely death at age 54, when Crystal was 15, set him apart from his peers and forever changed him. He tells of looking in the mirror shortly after his father’s death and seeing a man instead of a 15-year old.

Crystal’s story resonated with me because I share the same legacy; I was 11-years old when I too lost my 54-year old father. When Crystal relates…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on September 15, 2009 at 2:30pm — 1 Comment

How to help a grieving friend

When you’ve lost a loved one, the world as you knew it has changed forever. You lose your bearings, relationships change, and routines shift. Nothing feels right and the unfamiliarity is an uncomfortable reminder that life won’t ever be the same.

Most of us cherish the regularity of our lives and it’s our daily routines that give structure to our days. One of the most helpful things you can do for someone grieving a loss is to help them re-establish routines.

1. Offer to…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on August 19, 2009 at 2:30pm — No Comments

Why is it so hard to listen?

Two of my friends are great listeners; one says it’s because she’s the middle child and the other because she’s the eldest. Well, I’m a good listener too and I’m the youngest. So there goes the birth order theory.

So what makes a good listener? Most important, the willingness to keep quiet while someone else speaks. But it’s not just listening that’s important; it’s being attentive and present. In this era of multi-tasking, it’s hard to concentrate on just one thing and keep your…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on August 5, 2009 at 12:00pm — 1 Comment

Expressing condolences for difficult relationships

It’s a challenge to craft a meaningful condolence note in the best of circumstances. But how do you acknowledge a death when the relationship was difficult or even estranged?

The depth of one’s grief doesn’t necessarily equate to the quality of the relationship, so just because someone had a difficult relationship doesn’t mean they’re not hurting. It’s even possible that they’re hurting more because the opportunity for reconciliation has passed. And they’ll grieve that loss along…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on July 28, 2009 at 7:00pm — No Comments

How to be supportive after a miscarriage

Susan is in her sixties with four grown children that have brought her great joy. Yet she still feels the sting of a hurtful comment made after her miscarriage decades ago. Susan painfully recounts how a friend expressed no sympathy but asked, “Do you know what caused it?”

Like Susan, Melanie carries a deep hurt from comments after her miscarriage. One friend who also miscarried told her, “My baby lived 19 weeks while yours only lived five.” Melanie wonders, “Should my…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on July 21, 2009 at 3:30pm — No Comments

Speaking of the deceased

Why do people avoid saying the name of the deceased? A friend facing the anniversary of her husband’s death was hurt that friends no longer said her husband’s name. She finally asked them why and they told her they were afraid his name would make her sad. She’s already sad that her husband died and she thinks about him all the time; she told her friends she likes to talk about him, too.

That reminded me of a story another friend shared. It was the anniversary of the death of her…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on July 6, 2009 at 10:00am — No Comments

Supporting the bereaved after a suicide

A member of my community took his life. It was a sudden and traumatic loss and while some people treated his widow with kindness, she shared that she was unprepared for the hurtful actions of others. For example, she saw a friend walking towards her one morning in our small town. The friend saw her too and she quickly crossed the street to avoid her. A colleague also shared a hurtful experience following the suicide of her physician brother. Though she was a child, she vividly…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on June 23, 2009 at 11:00am — 16 Comments

Lessons from my dad

I see my mother everywhere. Though I never looked like her, I can now see a physical resemblance and so many of my qualities remind me of her. Not so for my dad. Everyone said I looked like him but I no longer can see the resemblance. I never had the good fortune to get to know him and he wasn’t part of my life long enough for me to emulate him in any way.

My father died when I was eleven. While his death was devastating, my mother dedicated herself to raising four…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on June 15, 2009 at 11:00am — 5 Comments

Four ways to help a friend deal with grief

How can you help a friend who’s numb with grief over the loss of a loved one and at times takes her anger out on you?

You can help your friend deal with her grief with any of the following activities:

1. Physical activity is a wonderful way to channel anger and refocus. You and your friend might make a date to take a weekly walk together in the evening or sign up for an exercise class together. You might need to arrange to pick her up to make sure it happens.



Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on June 3, 2009 at 2:30pm — 3 Comments

Memorial Service Etiquette

A reader shares: “My brother’s funeral was in another state and my immediate family was unable to attend. I’m coordinating a memorial service for him in our hometown. How can I make it appropriate for all in attendance who have many thoughts and religious beliefs?”

If you are holding a memorial service in a house of worship, you’ll need to check with the pastoral staff for guidance. But if you’re not holding the service in a house of worship, I believe you have a lot of flexibility…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on May 27, 2009 at 12:00pm — No Comments

Spread some kindness today

Do you have time to write a note today? I met someone who told me that once a week she sits at her desk and asks herself, “Who could use a note this week?” And then she writes one to someone who could use a dose of kindness.

In the frenzy to stay on top of things most of us find it difficult to find the time to write a note, no less figure out who could use some cheering up. But think how many spirits we’d lift if we all took the time this week to write one note to one person to let…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on May 15, 2009 at 6:30am — No Comments

In memory of mom

When friends and family faced tough times, my mom knew just what to do. She was a master at doling out comfort and her willingness to listen bonded many friendships. But it was her prowess as a baker that forged relationships. Whether someone was just home from the hospital or grieving a loss, my mom paid a visit, always with something baked from her kitchen.

So it’s no surprise that in the weeks following my mom’s death, I spent countless hours in the kitchen, trying to comfort…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on May 6, 2009 at 7:00am — No Comments

The importance of acknowledging anniversaries

This April, we’ve had two anniversaries of tragic events that deeply touched our lives: Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. Many of us remember where we were when we heard the news and how fixed we were on media coverage. Some of us lived in towns where the victims lived; some of us lived far away. Even if we didn’t know the victims or their families, we all felt touched.

Despite how easily the news of these tragedies overshadows our days, we quickly pick up the…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on April 21, 2009 at 2:30pm — No Comments

What’s appropriate to share?

When my cousin died many years ago, a poem she wrote about her herself, her husband and children was read at her funeral. My aunt had the poem written in calligraphy and gave me a copy for my birthday. Decades passed and my cousin’s children married and had children of their own. One day, I realized I no longer lingered to read the poem and wondered if my cousin’s daughter would better appreciate it. But I wasn’t sure if it would open old wounds so I wrote her a letter to ask if she’d like…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on April 14, 2009 at 3:30pm — No Comments

Visitation Etiquette

It’s easy to feel uncomfortable when you don’t know what to expect and that’s what happened to someone who recently attended a visitation. Visitations and funerals are not the same but they usually go hand in hand.

The visitation is a little less formal than the funeral and it’s an opportunity to provide support to the bereaved and spend some time visiting and speaking with the family. Funerals don’t afford that interaction. Some folks go to the visitation and the funeral…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on April 1, 2009 at 8:30am — 1 Comment

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