MAx Fabry is a member in good standing with OWA and a regular contributor to a weekly column “ASK MAx” published in the SPRINGFIELD TIMES, Springfield, Oregon. The SPRINGFIELD TIMES is published weekly on Friday by S.J. Olson Publishing, Inc. This column is published on this blog by permission of the SPRINGFIELD TIMES. Visit their website at
Dear MAx,
I have recently lost two dear friends. One was killed in a car accident on the East Coast; the other had a heart attack and died—he only lived six blocks from me. I was not directly notified about either of these deaths. I found out about them through the grapevine. I am questioning what kind of a friend I am that I didn’t even know they passed until weeks after it happened.


Dear Louie,
Whether we were sitting next them when they pass, or we hear about their transition well after the event, experiencing the loss of a loved one is always difficult. I suspect you may not understand the process of grieving.

As a volunteer with the Red Cross during 9-11, I realized that we are a nation that doesn’t know how to grieve. Shortly after returning from my assignment, I started having workshops to provide people the tools they need to understand this very personal human journey.

Up until the middle of the 20th century, immigrants to the US brought with them their traditions and rituals of grieving the loss of loved ones. Each culture brought with them a rich heritage that included grieving.

As a first generation American, my mother passed on the rituals of her Sicilian family. These “rules of grieving” were based on old world traditions dating back centuries. For instance, children under a certain age were not allowed to participate in the formal grieving—the viewing, the church service, and the burial—but were part of the meals and stories.

Somehow, in our evolution as a society, old world traditions and rituals are replaced with modern ideas. In these “modern times” we are a nomadic society barely held to our roots by technology. The phone system and many ways of computer communication, seems to have replaced that face-to-face renewal of family and friendship interactions.

Back in the 1950’s, Elisabeth Kublar-Ross provided Americans with a process for grieving. She presented five stages of grief that people experience: Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Sadness, and Acceptance. There is no time limit for going through the process, and you can go back and forth in how you experience each stage.

“Guilt” feelings are part of the grief and loss process and usually appear in all stages of the grief and loss process. I use to think that guilt was inherited through just my Sicilian culture. But, I now know that, in general, we are all born with the “guilt gene”.

Guilt is that part of our human conscience that sets a standard for our reality and reminds us when we are coming up short. The “standard” is our definition of what is right or wrong, good or evil. Guilt convicts us for being less then.

Guilt is positive in that it becomes the safety valve for our human condition. Guilt forces us to stop, think, and re-evaluate that standard we set for ourselves. It is probably a good idea to examine resetting our standards through each stage of life.

Louie, it sounds like you are in a stage of life where you are re-examining your standards. Guilt of loosing two friends and learning about their passing long after the event, has, maybe, forced you to examine your life, where you are now, what is important to you, and what you would want to change. This is the positive aspect of “guilt”.

This is all part of the grief and loss process. What I have learned from my clients and from participants in my workshops, is each time someone reaches the acceptance stage, they assess where they are in their life, and discover that they are better, wiser, and stronger people for allowing themselves to experience the process.

To understand more about the process of grief and loss, I still highly recommend Elisabeth Kublar-Ross’ book “On Death and Dying”. If you contact me at the information provided below, I would be honored to send you a visual of the cycle.

Remember, Louie, you are a spiritual being having a human experience. Experiencing grief is as important as experiencing joy. As with every other feeling, embrace the feeling of guilt, and listen for what it is telling you about your standards. In the end, you will be a better person for the experience.

I am sorry for your loses. I hope this insight will help you to be well on your journey.

Have a question about addiction, recovery, or life transitions such as retirement, career change, grief and loss issues, empty nesting, etc, ‘Ask MAx’. Send your questions to Lifestyle Changes, PO Box 1962, Eugene, OR 97440; or, e-mail your questions to: Learn more about MAx Fabry and read her blog at





1. Redefine your holiday expectations. Allow yourself scale back on activities. Plan ahead as to where and how you will spend your time during the holidays. Tell important people in your life that this is a difficult season and let them know what they can do to help. Don’t expect people to remember or to know what to do. Plan to be with the people YOU enjoy.

SUGGESTION: Redefine your celebrations on winter: go to a mountain lodge; go Sledding or skiing, or just take a walk in the woods–time out to enjoy what nature has to offer in this season.

2. Select a candle in your loved one’s favorite color and scent. Place it in a special area of your home and light it at a significant time throughout the holidays, signifying the light of the love that lives on in your heart.

SUGGESTION: Include the deceased in your conversations and celebrations. Hang a stocking for your loved one in which people can put notes with their thoughts or feelings. Look at photographs. Once others realize that you are comfortable talking about your loved one, they can relate stories that will add to your pleasant memories.

3. Give yourself permission to express your feelings. If you feel an urge to cry, let the tears flow. Tears are healing. Scientists have found that certain brain chemicals in our tears are natural pain relievers.

SUGGESTION: (Fill in with YOUR idea)

4. Call family members or dear friends and share your feelings. If they knew him or her, consider asking them to share some memories of times they shared with your loved one.


5. Write an “un-sent letter” to your loved one expressing what you are honestly feeling toward him or her at this moment. After you compose the letter, you may decide to place it in a book, album or drawer in your home, leave it at a memorial site, throw it away, or even burn it and let the ashes rise symbolically.


6. If you live within driving distance of the cemetery, decorate the memorial site with a holiday theme.. Decorating the site yourself can be helpful in remembering and celebrating your loved one’s life during the holidays, and may free you to cherish the present holiday with your remaining family.


7. Play music that is comforting and meaningful to you. Take a few moments to close your eyes and feel the music within the center of your being.


8. Give money you would have spent for gifts for your absent loved one to a charity in your family member’s name.

SUGGESTION: Do something for others: volunteer at a soup kitchen; visit the lonely and shut-ins; ask someone who is alone to share the day with your family; provide help for a needy family; volunteer at the airport to pour coffee for stranded travelers; or offer to volunteer in a hospital on the holiday.

9. DON’T BE AFRAID TO HAVE FUN. Laughter and joy are not disrespectful. Give yourself and your family members permission to celebrate and take pleasure in the holidays.


10. TAKE CARE OF YOU. Set priorities! Grief is exhausting Be careful with excessive use of alcohol or medications. Try to keep on a routine. Eat as well as you can, get your rest, and keep up with your exercise program. If you need some quiet time, take it. Use relaxation techniques you learn here today. Give yourself something to look forward to after the holiday.