Recently, I was reading an article written by Mitch Carmody, ( a fellow author here on the Open to Hope site) introducing his concept of “Proactive Grieving.” Mitch is a multi-talented man with a broad pallet of expressive and creative ways to facilitate healing and personal growth.

His piece addressed the attitudes and expectations men face when we become bereaved. We are expected to “Man Up” and be strong for the rest of the family. After all, big boys don’t cry right? Mitch has some great ideas on how to go forward from that concept but I was struck by the possibilities of preparing for grief BEFORE it happens.

What if I could go back in time and give my younger pre-scared self a few tools to cope with the pain and confusion to come? What if there were a way to stuff a little hard won wisdom into that guy I used to be? If only I could have grabbed that inexperienced know-it-all student and given him some idea of what life would be like in the wake of loss and emotional turmoil. Could I, at least, mount a big, red, glass fronted emergency box on the wall like the ones with fire axes and extinguishers in them?

I needed a short cut to the skills I lacked. I needed to be able to break the glass on that box and get my hands on something that could knock down the painful flames of loss or secure a life-line to climb out of that crazy broken nightmare I woke up in.

We, the bereaved, know that “What If” is a place that can get pretty dark and painful in a hurry, so instead of wishing for a changed past, perhaps we can work for a better tomorrow for others.

How can we take what we’ve learned on this painful journey of grief and reduce the bumps and bruises those behind us will have to incur? What tools can we give others as they pursue continued life and healing in their own walk forward? What would you put in that big red box for someone about to go through what we have endured?

I’ll share my list of what I wish had been in mine. I want to keep it simple, packing only the essential things I wish I had been given when I had my own personal crisis. You may want to build on my examples and make one of your own.

1) Emergency Contact List
If I had thought of it in advance, I could have made a fairly good guess about the people who would have been willing to step up and help. I would also include a list of organizations that are trustworthy and compatible with me and my closest friends and family. Today’s list would include The Open to Hope Foundation, The Compassionate Friends, Grief Inc., and my home church.

2) First Aid Manual
I needed to hear some TRUTH when I suffered my losses. Here are a few things I would list for anyone in crisis.
– Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
– Do allow others to be their better selves.
– Don’t buy into guilt.
– Do believe in your future.
– Don’t forget to keep breathing !

3) Permission
Permission to cry, now AND later. And more importantly, permission to smile again, laugh again, FEEL again. Grief often comes with guilt and confusion about what is appropriate and normal in our recovery. There IS NO NORMAL. There is only then vs. now and how we chose to move forward.

4) Essential supplies
– Facial Tissue ( or as our dear Darcie Sims used to suggest, Toilet paper! )
– Handkerchiefs
– hand sanitizer
– Trash bags
The tears do not come just once, nor does the weeping fall at the best times in the best places, and you may not be the only one crying.

5) Hugs
Ok, I don’t know how to put those in a box, but the comfort of open arms is not to be discounted. If any of you know how to bottle or bag them, please let me know. It would be especially nice if our favorite flavors could be refrigerated, and thawed out for later use.

That amazing spark that can light your way is hope. That compass pointing to something better is hope. The dream of reunion is hope. The chance to honor and celebrate the one you are missing is hope.
Hold it close to your heart but give it away every chance you get. There is nothing more wonderful than seeing it take root and grow. A reoccurring lesson found all over these pages is the fact that whatever hope you give away tends to come back and fill your own sails as well.

7) Comfort Food
I think if my Emergency box were refrigerated, I’d put an assortment of chocolate in. Perhaps we should remember to stock up on gift certificates. Don’t underestimate the power of food and the sharing of a meal with understanding friends. I think grief is perhaps the best excuse for cheating on the diet temporarily. You need to survive first, then you can worry about bathing suit weather.

Has my list given you any ideas? Can you picture yourself putting together an Emergency Box like this? Do you wish someone had built a survival kit for you before you started your journey through grief?

Whatever you find healthy comfort in, add it to your list. Feel free to include warnings and advice you wish you had gotten ahead of time. Make sure all the text is in a tone that does not judge or scold. Now think about how you will pass this kit along. It’s not likely to be a box mounted in the stairwell but maybe it will be an e-mail to your nephew or an open letter to your best friends.

If you have the chance to help someone in their struggle with grief, offer it. Each time we do, we find the gift returned. Somehow, somewhere, the hope we give always seems to refill and deepen the well we draw it from.

My thanks to Mitch for inspiring the idea for this. You can find him here among the authors for Open to Hope, and view some of his art and other projects at: Mitch Carmody’s Heartlight Studio

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Michael Nunley

Michael Nunley's love for music began in his youth. He was singing in churches and sharing the stage with well known performers in shows and television appearances all across the Ohio Valley. Growing up in a military family, Michael traveled extensively. He considers himself blessed to have experienced the beauty and diversity of so much of our world and it's people. Michael was a music scholarship recipient at Walters State College and at The University of Tennessee. As a member of the U.T. Singers, he toured and performed as a soloist with "Tennessee's Musical Ambassadors." He continued his involvement in the performing arts, playing guitar, bass, synthesizer and percussion as well as expanding his vocal abilities. He began to write and record his own music while serving as Interim Worship Leader at his church. It was during this time he produced his first CD of original songs as a music department fund raiser. In 2010, the Governor of Kentucky awarded Michael membership in The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, the state's highest title of honor, for writing and performing the theme song, "Because We Care", for the Kentucky Employee Charitable Contribution campaign. In 2000, tragedy struck twice, causing Michael to have a deeply personal change in his attitude and understanding of loss and grief. His sister, Cyndy, took her own life shortly before his father, Col. Billy F. Nunley (U.S.A.F.) lost his fight with a cancerous brain tumor. Michael is profoundly grateful for the opportunity to have written a song for The Compassionate Friends in 2011, and he found the experience brought him a new level of healing. He hopes to pass along some comfort with his poetry and music. He encourages others to use the creative process of writing, as he has done, to take care of "spiritual housekeeping" and help "Define, Confine, and then Refine " the sorrow into a more constructive energy. Michael says, "Grief is natural. What's UN-natural is dying from it in solitude. Accepting help, learning from it and passing along the healing is far better. That seems to me to be a cycle of life that will expand our compassion without killing the possibility of joy."

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