The Value of Personal Rituals in Grieving

July 2nd, 2015

Often when we talk about grief we do so in personal stories—and with good reason. Stories are nothing if not little murmurs that let us know we’re not alone.  But stories do have their limitations, and if you’re looking for good, concrete advice you can’t do much better than science. Emily Esfahani Smith’s piece aptly titled “In Grief, Try Personal Rituals” (published by The Atlantic in March, 2014), is a well-considered argument for, well, exactly what it sounds like: using personal rituals.

“Why do some mourners recover from grief quickly—much more quickly—than others? …Many variables, from your personality to your social world to your levels of stress before the loss, play distinct roles.

In the study, published in [February 2014] in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, [researchers] found that some mourners are more emotionally resilient than others, and those who overcome their grief more quickly… …performed what the researchers refer to as ‘rituals’…”

A ritual is a physical act combined with the sincere belief that it means something. A personal ritual is distinct from a public one (wearing black, being the recipient of casseroles, sitting shiva, etc). They may serve similar purposes, but a personal ritual is a more intimate expression, often done alone and typically invented by the individual.

“One woman whose husband died still washes his car each week, as he had done when he was alive… … One woman who lost her mother would ‘play the song by Natalie Cole ‘I miss you like crazy’ and cry every time I heard it and thought of my mom…’ …A man whose wife passed away wrote: ‘In these fifteen years I have been going to hairdressers to cut my hair every first Saturday of the month as we used to do together.’”

But instead of these rituals making their enactors sad, the rituals actually demonstrably lessen their grief. In one study, psychologists asked the 247 participants to write in detail about a loss they had experienced. Then, they were divided into two groups, one of which was asked to write about a personal ritual they had invented to help them through that loss.

“Those in the ritual group… …were less inclined to endorse statements (from a standard scale used to measure grief) such as ‘I feel that life is empty without this person,’ ‘Memories of this person upset me,’ and ‘I feel stunned or dazed over what happened.’”

The complete article at is full of other studies, each in support of the personal ritual to help with loss, and is a highly recommended read (as is The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion—a mediation on Didion’s relationship with her husband and the time following his death, and heavily referenced throughout the article).

To some it might seem cold or artificial to look to science to govern our behaviors, especially in terms of how we grieve. But these are things that have been helping people for decades—even centuries. Now we can prove that they work and that they can help.


Full Acceptance

June 1st, 2015

A Story from Armando Hernandez, Family Services Manager
Written by Carli Stewart

Danita Hernandez

Danita Hernandez

My wife’s name was Danita. The love of my life! She was full of exuberance and zest! She climbed Mt. Rainier, ran marathons and loved to travel. Her striking green eyes could stop me dead in my tracks and melt me deep to my soul.

I will never forget the day that our blissful four years together were cut short. It was a beautiful summer day in July, when I came home to find Danita sitting Indian style in the middle of our fully made bed, sobbing. She told me that she felt like she was dying. Her headaches just wouldn’t go away. Seeing how devastated she had become over her symptoms, I insisted we go to the hospital right away. It was 3:00 in the afternoon.

By 11:00 that night, after every test known to man – Cat Scans, MRIs, etc. I could see the doctors pointing at charts through the swinging doors. More doctors were called in and Danita was kept overnight. Once her parents arrived the next morning, we all sat across the table from a line of specialists who couldn’t even lift their heads to look any of us in the eye.

The silence was deafening between the row of specialists and Danita’s life sentence. Danita broke the silence with the dreaded question, “How long do I have to live?” Their immediate response: “Six months and you will die. There is nothing we can do! The cancer has metastasized to your brain.” Three inoperable brain tumors later and those words, “Nothing we can do,” marinade in my heart, body, mind and soul like a recurring nightmare.

We would never be the same again. I would never be the same again. How does one process something like that? I thought that this must be a joke. Her skin checks always came back clear! How could they have missed something so life threatening! Danita’s vibrancy and ability to remain calm while I imploded was astounding. It’s as if she reached this peace with her destiny, far before anyone else could. She continuously tried to cheer up her loved ones, even amidst the most cataclysmic outcome: her inevitable death.

She never complained, even as her tumors progressed. She couldn’t convey what she wanted to say. The words coming from her eyes still kill me to this day. While watching her suffer, I got angry with God.

We approached every alternative medicine option. We even went to Mexico. But nothing worked. She died 6 months from the diagnosis date, on Friday the 13th.

I’ve remained alone in my life for nearly 20 years since, in full acceptance that I would never be blessed with love again. Most certainly not a love like that! I didn’t ever want to lose someone of that magnitude again. So I’ve built a protection layer between me and any essence of possibility in that arena. My internal block became so familiar that I didn’t even realize how empty I had become.

What was a saving grace back then, from a life of mere devastation was a Young Widows Group who cradled me back to life again. Having the support from others facing similar loss, comforted me deeply through some of the toughest times.

For so long my heart was closed. Love’s timing never felt right to meet someone again. I truly feel as though only the most magnificent miracles will only bestow me when I have become to a full acceptance of the matter at hand.

I am brought back to a moment of peace only nights after Danita’s passing. I awoke and her scent consumed me. The soft light of an almost a hazy glow in front of me blew me away! I somehow felt in that moment that I didn’t have to worry anymore. She was sending me waves of relief from her angel’s wings. I could finally sleep again! I never again experienced anything like that since, until now. There are angels in people’s clothes ever surrounding us. I just had to become willing to accept that life can move forward, even after the journey appears so bleak and empty.

Today, I channel my grief through the families I work with and the counselors I coach! My life’s venture is to help others who are now in their time of grief, as I once was, and all considering, still am! After all those years of my heart remaining closed, I now have the courage to look inward at all the rawness and scars Danita’s death created inside me.

The simplest action of saying yes to this article, will be the very foundation for my passion to consume me once again! I am still on my healing journey from this loss. And it is exactly where I am supposed to be! But my heart is flooded with opportunity to love again as coincidences like writing this article, are only God’s blessings – while He remains anonymous!


Life Lessons in Dying

April 30th, 2015
Julie and Rick Becker, 1986

Julie and Rick Becker, 1986

It will be 15 years ago this August 12th that Julie Novak Becker died from breast cancer, two months short of her 41st birthday.

When we were first married, I remember Jules saying that she had a hair appointment.  When she came home that night, her hair was the same as when she left.  I said “You didn’t go to your appointment?” and she said “Oh, this was just an hour consultation visit to see if I’d even let him cut and style my hair.”  I had never heard of such a thing and laughed.

Julie detected what she assumed was a lump in her breast, so she went in for an exam.  A lump was found but the biopsy came back benign, which was a great relief.  It was especially a relief since her grandmother, Dorothy Zedick had died of ovarian cancer at 62 and Julie’s mother, Trudi Novak had died of breast cancer at 47. (Julie’s only sibling, a younger sister, Kathleen in the early 2000’s had a double mastectomy as preventative medicine. As of today, she is cancer free.)  Julie was advised to have another check up in 6 months as a precaution.

About 3 months went by and Julie was on her way to a hair appointment, when she was impelled to turn around and go immediately to the doctor’s office, though she did not have an appointment. Another biopsy was taken and when she was asked to have a seat she knew the news could not be good.  It turned out the lump was not benign and had in fact grown from the size of a golf ball to that of a lemon. When the original biopsy was taken, the sample they took was benign but they had missed the part that was cancerous.

When she returned home that night I had no knowledge of any of this. To my knowledge, Julie had gone to her hair appointment– so when she gave me this news I was stunned. At first I became extremely angry at the situation; then I broke down and cried.  Julie actually handled this news much better than I did. She asked me why I was so angry and I couldn’t answer, all I knew was that I was angry.  I remember my father was in the rehab section of the hospital recovering from hip replacement surgery. I went into his room to tell him. All I could do was hug him. I wept on his shoulder like a small child, as if he could fix this.

Julie was always a stalwart woman, facing situations head on, never one to back down. In one act of defiance against the cancer, she got two tattoos, something she could control.   Through her, I learned many lessons in the face of dying.  Most of us have heard the expression “Until you’ve walked a mile in another’s shoes, don’t judge them.”  I remember Julie telling me that when her grandmother was ill she went through every possible treatment and Julie’s mother, Trudi said, “If I ever got cancer, I would not put myself through everything mother has endured.”  When Trudi got diagnosed, what did she do? She went through every possible treatment there was. Seeing this, Julie told me that if she ever got cancer, she would not put herself through all the treatments her grandmother and mother had gone through. However, when the diagnosis came down, Julie subscribed to all the treatments that were offered, a double mastectomy,  all of which she faced with dignity and forthrightness. Within a short time, she went into remission and all looked well for about 2 years, then a spot was found on her lung (though she had never smoked) it quickly spread to her brain and she was given 1 year to live. None of us know what decision we will make until faced with a similar situation.  Often we will think someone has made a decision we wouldn’t, but making the same decision they did when facing a situation, can be braver using the courage to change our mind.

For the first few chemotherapy treatments, she was tired, but that was all.  Then the sickness started and the loss of her hair that was so important to her. Finally, tired of finding clumps of hair on her pillow each morning, she climbed into the shower and watched what was left of her precious hair go down the drain. One day, Jules said “To think I put so much importance on my hair, when now it seems so trivial when I’m fighting for my life.” It made me think how many things we put importance on, when in the grand scope of things, health and life are everything. Julie took it all in stride. She tried to wear a wig, but soon gave that up for a scarf and hat. As Jules had always done she fought on, a lesson she had learned and taken to heart from her mother.  When the company she worked for denied her insurance coverage, she moved on undaunted fighting not only her sickness, but for the insurance coverage that was rightfully hers.

Where Julie was a fighter, she was also one of the most selfless people I have ever known. Even in this battle against cancer, when anyone visited, she would be the one trying to cheer them up. As weak as she was, Jules fought to the very end.  It wasn’t until all of us who loved her expressed to her as lovingly as we could that it was ok to let go, that she finally did.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was really after Julie died.  At her memorial service, the lady that had headed her support group stood up and shared private information that Julie had said in the sanctity of a meeting, expressing feelings that should have stayed in the support group, period. I was incensed and I brooded over this for probably close to two months. On several occasions I went to phone her and ask her “What was she thinking to say those things?”– but something stopped me.  I called a friend of mine and told her what I was thinking and she advised I write this lady a letter, get it all out, everything I was thinking, read it aloud and then throw it away, don’t send it. So I began writing out all my feelings at the moment.

When things would go kind of topsy-turvy, Julie would make what I called her “funny face” and one time I took a picture of her making that face.  Her birthday was Halloween and it was around that time I wrote that letter. I was not in the mood to go to a Halloween party, but one was being held at work and so I relented to go.  Well, I opened the closet where we had kept different costumes, as Jules’ birthday was always a costume affair. I opened the closet door and there looking at me was this photo of Jules making that face.  It was in that instantaneous moment that all the anger, resentment, etc that I had been harboring was totally gone. It was as if Julie was saying to me, “Let it go, it doesn’t mean anything.”  How and why that picture was there, looking at me, is still to this day a mystery. I have strived since then (not always successfully) to take that final lesson from Jules and try to let go of all feelings of resentment and anger when they come along and realize we are all human, we err, we make bad judgments and try to put ourselves in another’s shoes before reacting.


My Turning Point

March 30th, 2015
By Brian Braathen

bbraathen and mom photo

It seems most people can look back at their life and identify certain moments that shaped them into who they have become.

I think those individuals who are lucky enough to have someone in their life who can help them navigate (in the right direction) when the times are tough are extremely fortunate. I believe there is more to life than simply living it.  I believe there is a plan and we each have a purpose.

When I turned 22, my mom died.  It wasn’t until a short time later I realized she had been my everything as I knew it.  Her death was not sudden, we had known it was coming… But it was so hard, impossible to prepare for.  It had been 15 years since she was diagnosed with Leukemia, and was really given five years to live.  On one hand we felt like we had ten years of borrowed time, and on the other we felt cheated… it hadn’t been long enough.  For the first time I really felt alone.  I grew up in a family of four… Dad, Mom, brother and me.  Even though I still had my Dad and Brother, I was lost.  I spent the next 6 months feeling like a cork in the middle of a stormy ocean following the currents of convenience, and simply waiting for the sea to calm and “get over” my mom’s death, and move on… as if time would heal and make the difference.

It wasn’t until someone told me, “Good luck with that.”  I asked, “What do you mean?”  They told me I would never get over losing my mom. “You will just learn to deal with it.”

I asked, “How would you know?”  They said, “Because my mom died two years ago.” For the first time since my mom had died, I felt like I was talking to a credible person– a tow rope was just tossed in my direction, something I could navigate from.  It was a short statement, and I’m sure she was unaware the impact it made.  It was exactly what I needed to hear, and when I needed to hear it.

A few days later I was out with a friend and he introduced me to a group of people he knew by saying, “Hey everyone… This is Brian, he is Mormon, but he’s pretty cool.”Everyone gave me the nod to say hi.

What an odd introduction… one that really bothered me. Why would he introduce me like that?  Why did it matter I was Mormon? So later that night when no one else was around, I asked him what he meant?  He said, “It isn’t your fault you’re Mormon… just like it’s not my fault I’m Catholic.  You’re Mormon because you grew up that way, and I’m Catholic because I grew up that way.”

I pondered on this a minute and understood the label, and wondered if he was right? Was I Mormon because my mom was Mormon?  I wasn’t sure. I had never been challenged to stand alone to back up my personal convictions. Who was I really? What did I stand for? This was the turning point in my life. I needed to find out for myself who I was and what I believed in, without my mom to guide me.  Was I a Mormon or simply raised that way?  I made a commitment to myself: I would do the things I was taught were right, pray each morning and each night, recount my day, and show gratitude for the things I had, rather than the things I didn’t have or had lost.  I would go to church each Sunday and respect the Sabbath day.  I would talk and treat people the way I wanted to be treated, I would read the scriptures, and after one month I would ask if what I was reading was true.

At the end of the month, I knelt down and prayed to God, and as I asked, I was flooded with feelings that communicated to my thoughts. It is very hard to describe…  impossible for me to put into words, but the answer was clear, “Why do you ask about things you already know the answers to? Brian, I love you and if you love me, keep my commandments.” There were no words, but I can’t deny what was communicated.

Since this experience, I have come to know that all of us will experience tribulation, trials, heartache… It is who we turn to in these times of trouble that make all the difference, by giving us strength and hope. I was fortunate enough to have the best mother ever, who taught me how to find the answers I need.

When we look in the mirror do we recognize the image looking back?


Snapshots of Joy

March 30th, 2015

I remember the teacup ride. Just myself and Tom, the only adults in line not accompanying children, strategizing our hand movements to stay out of the other’s way. And when the ride started, whipping our little teacup around as fast as our full-grown, weight-lifting arms could take us, till laughter overcame our strength and centrifugal force shoved us back against the lip of the teacup. Then, stumbling through the park, dizzy and sore and giggling.

Snapshots of Joy is a place to share a wonderful memory of your deceased loved one. Maybe it’s building a wonky looking snowman, or maybe it’s a miserable camping trip that time has ripened into a fond memory. Maybe it’s a big event like a wedding, or something small and pedestrian like cooking dinner on a Tuesday night.

What’s one happy memory with that person, in 75 words or less?

Leave a reply below and share your joy!


Why God Gave Me You

March 2nd, 2015

Written by Erica Wilkinson

sam and mom

Sam and Erica

Did you know that there are Angels among us?  I know my son, Samuel, my firstborn, was one of them.  How lucky am I that God choose me to be his mommy?

Let me share with you why.

Samuel Austin came into this world June 12th, 1996.  I experienced a typical and healthy pregnancy, so I was completely unprepared for what this little boy had in store for me.

Sam was far from typical.  He was diagnosed with global developmental delays, seizure disorder, cerebral palsy and broad form autism.  He was non-ambulatory and non-verbal.  WHAT?  Our family didn’t plan for this! What do we do?  What, as his mom, do I do for him?  I needed help!  With outside resources and some support, we were able to get my Sam connected to therapies that included; occupational, physical, speech, and hippo therapy (specialized horseback riding).

During all of my caring, all of the times we spent at Children’s Hospital as Sam fought off another illness, all the times I nursed his weak and tired body back to health, I had no idea Sam was teaching me, training my heart to be more open towards others and their needs. He was training me to become an honorable servant in God’s eyes.

Although non-verbal, Sam had his own language and I learned it, quickly.  I became his voice and his advocate.  It was a few years after he died before I realized that I needed to use what he taught me to be of service to others who are vulnerable.  Clearly, in the few years that passed after Sam’s death, God knew I wasn’t properly prepared for the honor of caring for those in the special needs community.  I made some horrible choices and made some poor decisions.  The shame was still there, so I first had to forgive and be forgiven.  But, then the day came…

Walking in the hall of my children’s school, a former caregiver of Sam stopped me, and abruptly asked me, “Why are you not teaching as a paraeducator? We could use you, you have life experience.”  You’d better believe I did!  Twelve plus years of hands on experience and more medical knowledge than any mother should know about without a nursing degree.

Okay! There was my sign and my acceptance from Sam.  I could feel him say, “Mom, you are ready, do what it takes.”

I now work as a substitute paraeducator for the Edmonds School District (I actually have schools request me to help in their classrooms).  I am also an in home caregiver to a beautiful young woman with special needs.  Mom is doing my best to make you proud, my angel Sam.

It was also God’s incredible timing that I became pregnant with my youngest, Nathan, during Sam’s final months with us.  This was truly a miracle because my (now) husband Dave and I thought were unable to have children of our own.  Nathan may not have physically known his brother, but he knows Sam, and we speak of him often. Nathan’s middle name is Samuel.  The meaning of Nathan is:  Gift from God.  The meaning of Samuel is:  Asked of God; heard by God.  That is no happenstance, that is providence.

Out of such despair and deep sadness over the loss of Sam, I have witnessed goodness and light breathed into others souls.  Especially, in my middle son, Jackson.  Throughout Sam’s life, Jackson took a back seat.  Most of my energy was on Sam and stabilizing his health.  This did not make Jackson bitter nor did it deter him from assisting in Sam’s care whenever he could.  This brought about compassion and empathy in Jackson at a very early age.  Even though each grief experience is unique, I make sure to keep an open door of communication with Jackson about Sam.  We reminisce and remember Sam every day.  Jackson is even writing his own story of loss and healing about his brother.

Sam didn’t have a choice in his future and he fought his illness to the very end.  He is my true hero, therefore it is my mission to carry out his legacy to teach and care for others with special needs about God’s love.  By doing this, it is the continuation of my grieving and healing process.  My angel Sam may have had ‘no voice’ but, he impacted many hearts with his unconditional love.

My beautiful family…I am grateful…

(left to right) Nathan Koda and Jackson

(left to right) Nathan, Koda, and Jackson

(top to bottom) Dave and Nathan wilkinson

(top to bottom) Dave and Nathan









What follows is a letter Erica Wilkinson wrote on behalf of her late son Samuel. 




















89th Annual Memorial Day Service

February 27th, 2015
Memorial Day at Evergreen Washelli

On Monday May 25th, 2015, Evergreen Washelli will host our Annual Memorial Day Commemorative Service. Please join us as we honor America’s fallen and salute the flags on our “Avenue of Colors”.

In the morning, at 7:00 AM, there will be a Flag Placement at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Each of the 5000 white marble upright markers in the Veterans Section will receive a flag placed by hundreds of volunteers that will come out for this event. Veterans, scout groups, churches, local organizations and families will place the flags.

The 1:30 p.m. concert will feature marches, patriotic selections and other music provided by the Seattle Pacific University Symphonic Wind Ensemble and Drum Corps. The Service of Remembrance begins at 2:00 p.m.

Following the Memorial Day Commemorative Service, we invite you to attend a guided tour of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery and learn about the remarkable lives of the Medal of Honor recipients in our care.

Our guide this year will be David Bloch, son of the Medal of Honor recipient Orville Emil Bloch. We are extremely honored and excited to have him as our tour guide.

David will guide us through the history of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery, as well as teach us about the stories of Private William C. Horton, PFC Lewis Albanese, PFC William Kenzo Nakamura, 2nd LT Robert Ronald Leisy, Coxswain Harry Delmar Fadden, and of course Colonel Orville Emil Bloch.

Kindly meet us at the Doughboy Statue in the Veterans Memorial Cemetery at 3:15 pm. We ask for a $5.00 suggested donation for attendance, which will go to the purchase of flags for the Avenue of Flags. For more information, and to reserve a spot, please call us at (206)362-5200 or email

Memorial Day Service



McKinneys Receive Special Recognition Award at Washelli

February 22nd, 2015
Black History Celebration

Rev. Samuel McKinney

The Reverend Dr. Samuel B. McKinney received a surprise when he attended Evergreen-Washelli’s 7th Annual Black History Celebration on Sunday, February 15th.  An avid supporter of this community event, Reverend McKinney has not missed a single celebration since Washelli began the tradition of offering this service to the public.

McKinney was awarded the first ever Washelli Special Recognition Award on behalf of himself and his late wife, First Lady Louise J. McKinney, who passed in 2012.  In presenting the award to the McKinneys, Washelli Sales Director, Sandra Colleton cited the McKinney’s tireless work for over four decades to improve the lives of all Seattleites but especially people of color, referring to the recipients as “Seattle’s own first family of social reform and civic justice.”

Ms. Colleton mentioned Mrs. McKinney’s storied accomplishments as an advocate of children, her influence within the community as a generous philanthropist and patron of the arts and her ability to inspire a multitude of others with her work in education, religion, health care, child development and the arts.  Ms. Colleton stated that “although Mrs. McKinney’s mortal remains rest across the street in the Washelli Columbarium, her soul soars high with our Heavenly Father and her legacy remains forever etched in the hearts of Seattle.”

The McKinneys, married 59 years, first came to Seattle in 1958 to lead the flock at Mr. Zion Baptist Church, a congregation which under their stewardship grew from a few hundred to over 2500 strong.  In the process, Ms. Colleton noted, Rev. McKinney made himself known to all of Seattle not merely as a great religious leader and preacher but also as a great man.  “He became our city’s conscience for social justice, civil rights and positive change” she noted.

It was a very young Rev. McKinney who invited his old Morehouse College friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to what was to become his only visit to Seattle.  Rev. McKinney was deeply involved with the local NAACP, the Central Area Civil Rights Committee, the Urban League, the Seattle Opportunity Industrialization Center, the YMCA, served on the boards of several local corporations, was the first black president of the Church Council of Greater Seattle and was one of the original members of the Seattle Human Rights Commission which passed the city’s first fair housing ordinance.  There is no doubt, said Ms. Colleton, that Rev. McKinney “sensitized Seattle and its leadership to the needs of the less fortunate, black and white” and that “his leadership, influence and tireless efforts have made a positive and lasting impact on race and social justice issues in our city for which past, present and future generations will all be forever grateful.”

In an interview after Dr. King’s 1961 visit to Seattle, Rev. McKinney stated that Dr. King was the most prominent influencer of our nation during that generation, saying that King was “the right man at the right time with the right message.”  While Seattle in 1961 was certainly more progressive than the racially troubled deep South, Rev. McKinney knew that Seattle’s progressiveness was unfortunately only superficial, running only skin-deep.  Therefore Rev. McKinney did not stop his reform efforts. Ms. Colleton noted that McKinney became “Seattle’s own right man at the right time with the right message.”  Rev. McKinney received a long standing ovation from the audience and was virtually speechless after accepting the award, quipping that his loss of words was “rather remarkable for a Baptist preacher with a microphone in his hand.”

Ms. Colleton noted that there is still “much work to do” in the area of social justice in our city, noting that “new leadership needs to work to bring about the necessary changes so that next year an old black man carrying a golf club can walk on the sidewalk and not find himself arrested.”  Because there is still work to be done, Washelli plans to recognize someone every year at their annual Black History Celebration, a person who is making an impact to improve the lives of African Americans in our city. Beginning next year, the Washelli award will be named “The McKinney Award” to honor its first recipients.  Future recipients will be selected by a committee comprised of Evergreen-Washelli management, community leaders and a representative of the McKinney family.  Candidates may be nominated by the general public beginning on December 1st of each year.

Pastor George I. Davenport Jr. from Peoples’ Institutional Baptist Church served as Master of Ceremonies and did a masterful job of keeping the event flowing between speakers, music and entertainment.  Minister James A. Maxwell from the Tukwila Church of Christ inspired the guests with his message about how where a person comes from and where life’s circumstances have taken them colors and shapes who they are today, sometimes in ways not visible to the naked eye but in ways that nonetheless have a very real impact on shaping their character.

Pastor Davenport coined a new word for the Mt. Calvary Christian Praise Dancers performance, dubbing it “praisertainment”, and it was indeed lively and joyful, as were the performances of the Total Experience Gospel Choir led by Rev. Pat Wright, and the electrifying guitar and vocal piece by Minister Perry Joshua. The surprise of the evening was when a shy, demure and admittedly very nervous 15-year old Jayza Duhon stood at the podium to read an original poem and then sang Ella Fitzgerald’s “Summertime” a cappella.  Her powerful performance blew everyone away with the depth and beauty of her voice and the poise and grace she exhibited.

Barbara Bivens, Evergreen-Washelli’s South Seattle Community and Groups Coordinator, closed the event by leading guests in a moment of silence after she lit candles in memory of everyone’s departed loved ones. Pastor Davenport quipped that he knew full well “that the only thing standing between the guests and the food is me”, at which point he led everyone in a quick blessing of the meal prepared by Jemil’s Big Easy, the wonderful smells of which were wafting into the chapel from the nearby Celebration Hall.  Pastor Davenport concluded the service by inviting the crowd of over 200 guests to place their flower, which was given to them upon arrival, in a heart-shaped floral tribute to their departed loved ones as they made their way into the Celebration Hall for a couple of hours of eating and visiting.

If you would like to purchase a DVD of the ceremony for $25.00 plus sales tax, or receive complimentary copies of the still photographs taken of you and your friends at the event by the event’s professional photographer, Kathryn Beck, please contact Ms. Barbara Bivens at: or 206.362.5200, ext. 270.


Losing My Sister Whitney

February 3rd, 2015

1999 was supposed to be a year of excitement for our family: the end to a great millennium, with hopes for the future for me and my family. But that fall things came to a stop and life took on a different meaning when my sister Whitney was diagnosed with leukemia. We all tried our best through the ups and downs of chemotherapy and watching my sister suffer through all the treatments modern medicine had to offer.

I myself was in extreme denial about losing my sister and avoided the topic of death entirely. Three weeks after Whitney’s 23rd birthday the doctors said they had done everything they could and sent her home to die. It was an excruciating three weeks but it was full of forgiveness and bonding with Whitney and my other four brothers.

We were all there when she fought for her last breath. And to this day I felt she was fighting to live till the very end.

I remember being angry at God and temperamental with people who couldn’t possibly know what my family and I had just gone through.

The years have softened my soul and with much love from my family and the bonds we made during those first few years I have become a very compassionate and understanding man. In fact our entire family has become the rock and the example of what losing a loved one does to a family for the neighborhood and community our family live in.

We now laugh at the stories of Whitney and even embrace her rebellious nature.

My brothers often recall stories of the fights over the Christmas decorations I had with her. Many times I say to friends I wish I had my sister here so I could sit at the bar and have a drink with her. Her memory is still very much alive in our family and amongst her friends. I am glad I have stayed in contact with her friends.

One of the greatest honors was when my brother came to each one of us in our family asking if it would be alright to pass Whitney’s name to his new daughter. After his daughter’s birth I see some Whitney’s mannerisms and of course we laugh at her temper. It’s just like her aunt’s.

Yes, 15 years has come by so fast but it seems like just yesterday. I go to her grave several times whenever I’m in town and just talk with her. I smile because it seems like I have better conversations with Whitney now than with my 94 year old grandmother who has dementia.

Our family is often asked to speak with people going through the passing of a loved one or who is going through cancer treatments. Our family would never want to do it again but in some ways we are grateful we can lend a shoulder to cry on, or give a hug to those who are suffering.

It is painful, however it does get better and life does go on.Michael Thygerson

 Michael Thygerson
Family Services Representative
Evergreen Washelli    



Filling the Holes in My Soul: Recovering from a Multitude of Losses

December 30th, 2014

CarliBy Carli R. Stewart

It began with the loss of my Grandma at age 7. My family’s silence over the matter was deafening. I was very curious about what ‘death’ meant, so I questioned everything at my Grandma’s funeral. The dimly lit Funeral Home smelt of a musty rose and my mom and dad appeared emotionless, their faces blank and pale. Their forced hugs toward those who attended, seemed heartless even from my 7 year old perspective. In response to my streaming tears and constant questions, my mother offered me a white frosted cookie with hopeful star sprinkles on top. She told me that it would make me feel better, at the same time it shut me up!

I learned quickly to remain silent, while eating to guide myself to a fuller solution. At Age 13, the morning after my best friend Kelly and I had a routine sleepover, I found her dead in her bathtub. She had ingested everything she could get her hands on from her addicted mother’s vault of a medicine cabinet. This was the beginning of an entourage of tragedy that hit me at least once seemingly every year of my life since. Every single time I pictured her lifeless purple body and stringy dirty blonde hair escaping the tub, I turned to the cupboard full of comfort foods to hopefully distract me from this haunting memory invading my mind. Like a bottomless pit, I could never seem to get enough to satisfy this deadly feeling of emptiness from the loss of Kelly. Still, to this day I refer to her as the sister I never had.

Over time, these undeniable pains began to pierce holes in my soul. The subsequent deaths in my family of 2 young cousins throughout my mid-later teens made me the pillar my family would look to for strength. These deaths saw me taking care of the arrangements that all other family members tried to evade. My family members’ inability to function created a pattern where I would stand up and take action, while others simply crumpled.

Because of my love for photography, I began to notice this theme of being the one to call upon when a death occurred within friendships as well. It became all too familiar as loved ones kept dying. I was the one with all the photos of cherished memories for these tragic young deaths that came in waves every year.  From my former years, I always had the urge to talk until I was blue in the face over these deaths. These were the instances where I wasn’t silenced for doing so while putting on a Service to celebrate each life. This would all be fine for a few months until others were more-or-less back on their feet and I could no longer hide my feelings behind the work at hand. I started calling this the 3 Month Rule.

From my experience, the 3 Month Rule is a dooming point in time that seems to come after every death. Once this marker in time strikes, the phone calls and condolences stop. No one wishes to speak or hear of your heart aches anymore. They simply feel that you should have already moved on. So the fight response in me disintegrated and I crashed! As my helpfulness is less needed and I am no longer able to bury myself in the service work of the grieving, the support system behind me fades as well. I became reliant on this 3 Month Rule after so many deaths had been established, so that I could collapse into an eating coma after holding it together for what it seemed a lifetime!

By the age of 18 I took on the world as a natural caregiver, which ultimately lead me to a graduate degree and career in such. While helping others, I found momentary relief from my own losses. But this was just the second of many temporary fixes. My mother based the grief of her own parents from her formative years on workaholism as I grew up. So my mother – my mirror of expertise and so called strength – simply taught me to remain busy and I’d hopefully forget about my sorrow.

I found that helping others had certainly been the most socially acceptable outlet I could find while running away from my own grief. But all the while, I continued eating to fill this emptiness inside. Like most people using this outlet to escape oneself, I ran myself dry and obese! This was ongoing to the extent that I no longer had anything remaining to offer myself at each day’s end. My desire to seek outside of self and choose mentally taxing professions was coupled with the learned belief that if I just keep myself busy, ’Time Will Heal’.

I willingly participated in perfection toward exceptional grades and workaholism, as I found that the admiration by my colleagues, family, and friends for my achievements were ever so delightful. Meanwhile, I was dying on the inside. These spurts of recognition and awards only erased the pain growing in me for mere seconds. Yet I continued to chase it, for even minute relief was better than nothing. Meanwhile, my weight grew to be of such an uncomfortable capacity for my 5’2 small boned body!

I was now 22, just before the finals of my senior year of college, when my brother Blaine died. It continued the spiral effect of incurring losses that I didn’t know how to face. I already had too much left unfinished emotionally, and Blaine’s death only compounded the problem. The pain was far too immense to even catch my breath. I’d begun to link his death and all preceding deaths to their common denominator: me.  I no longer allowed others into my bubble for fear that their contact with me would cause them to die as well. Every time I blinked my eyes, I saw the picture of my brother huddled on the floor, with the needle still in his arm. I was told he was found on his hands and knees, as if it were to be a praying position. Somehow, this gave me hope even though I didn’t have a God. Maybe there is something he turned to in his last seconds of life?

Once again, I played the pillar. I aced my finals, then drove the six and a half hours to take over as sole proprietor of my brother’s funeral arrangements. The slide show for his Memorial spoke wonders to his early life. But out of the 4 boxes of childhood memories, I couldn’t find one picture of him smiling after the age of seven. My father was increasingly hard on my brother from that age on for reasons I found out much after Blaine’s death. Blaine did everything that was done to him, unto me. This revelation created a whirlwind of hurt and revenge for my father after hearing the intimate details of certain events. Out of haste, upon learning of these truths after the Funeral, my father set everything my brother owned on fire in the bonfire out back.

A decade had passed since Kelly’s passing. And time seemed to encroach more holes in the space I feel is my soul. I was an ever-struggling, hopeless shell of a woman. But I truly felt that there was something missing, I just had no clue what it was! I continued to displace my energy into modes of distraction, which further led to mass destruction of my body, mind, and soul!

I finally had had enough of the discomfort and humiliation of my weight, so I threw myself into working out and partying with the same abandon with which I’d been overeating before. I was treating the symptom instead of the condition, though I didn’t know it at the time.  The vain superficiality of it all did do wonders—I slimmed down and surrounded myself with people at all times—but at night I couldn’t sleep. I turned the music up to drown out the noise in my head. You see, the committee in my head reigned over my every move. When all fell silent and I was alone with myself I was so uncomfortable in my own skin that I wanted to scream. I wanted to quite literally tear off my skin, just to show my internal suffering that no one else could see!

The alcohol, I found to be another way to self forget. With this method of escapism, it sure created a false sense of feeling ok. Well, in the beginning that is. When the party stopped, I never did. These behaviors slowly took precedence over hitting the gym while instead choosing hard alcohol as my daily nutritious intake. Mountains of sorrow began to unveil. I was almost relieved to have found a way to unleash my wrath of emotions without the feeling of repercussion or embarrassment by my speaking of it. This became quite the pattern of after work behavior. I would resort to an establishment revolved around drinking to over-dramatize my several losses during bouts of the drink! My reminiscent discussions over people already gone, soon turned to waterfalls of tears and victim-like despair. I still awoke, EMPTY. I was never refueled as I thought I would be after yet another cry spell.

By this time I was 27 years old and lived in a world of anguish, for I could not even open the drapes each morning. I had since released any glimmer of hope to see a light again at the end of the tunnel. Not knowing that the tunnel was the illusion all along. Now unemployed, I channeled my depression to social media and watching consecutive series all in one sitting on Netflix. While mindlessly searching Facebook one night I learned of the death of a young quadriplegic man I use to care for. He’d died months before and not one person thought to call me. I was no longer the pillar people called on for strength—that realization was crushing.

One day shortly thereafter, I was compelled to walk into Half Priced Books. This felt strange to me, as I was always a skimmer throughout college, rather than a reader and would not normally be urged to go into any bookstore. The gift of desperation caused me to look for answers in places that felt outside of my comfort zone. While inside, I turned around and saw a book – plain and cream colored—yet it seemed to jump out at me as though it had colors blasting from it’s every essence! A halo-like appearance surrounded it, summoning “Pick Me!” written as the title!

I picked it up and opened the tattered cover. On the title page was a handwritten inscription. It read, “Dad, this book helped me find peace over Blaine’s Death. I sincerely hope you will someday become willing to find forgiveness in your heart for him. Love, Carleen.” I dropped to my knees in disbelief. My brother’s name, a father unable to forgive his son, a name just a few letters off from my own… Needless to say, I read the whole book in one sitting. I didn’t even notice the cold linoleum floor below me in the aisle of that bookstore. As I was engaged in my reading, the people passing by felt like gusts of wind from angel wings. I could not wait to turn the next page to soak up more of a different way to thinking, acting, and whole-hearted living. I became acutely aware of just how ill prepared I was in dealing with the conflicting emotions revolving around each independent death and how it affected me to such an inner core, that it ruled my every waking existence!  Each subsequent death struck deeper and deeper until the clutter of rage and fear ruled my life.

This book, titled the “Grief Recovery Handbook” changed my entire perspective on death in general. I finally faced the facts that I would do anything to run away from my grief, rather than work through it in strides. Up until that point, I had a set of learned beliefs about death, chief among them that “Time Will Heal,” and I could not fathom that there actually be a different way in dealing with loss. I learned to first question what I always believed to be true. My problem all along began with my thinking.  In order to polish myself to a clean slate, I had to actually take note of what my automatic thoughts were throughout each day, to acknowledge and replace them.  Repetition became new habits. I learned to accept my feelings fully, without judging them as good or bad. Feelings have a stubborn habit of resurfacing, if denied or hidden away. Feeling the pain is an essential part of growing beyond unresolved grief.

Over time, the transformation was so slow, that I did not truly see how incredibly inner-changed I had become until the next catastophy struck me like a ton of bricks! My mother was hit head on by a drunk driver on a cold, rainy January evening as she headed home from work. This was thankfully after I had begun my journey toward healing from loss. The now, 30 year old me took full reigns of the situation at hand in a far different light than ever before! I chose to let go, and let God. The prayer chains that went out for my mother were miraculous! The book speaks nothing of a God if I recall correctly. But it was most certainly a means to a belief system in something far greater than myself. With this concept of belief, I found peace in even the most cataclysmic of situations since.

I found peace with death. I fully believe today that loss is an opportunity for spiritual development. I now get to claim my circumstances, instead of my circumstances claiming me and my happiness! I’ve built an identity that includes these losses, while channeling the enormous amount of energy learnt to now help others. There no longer exists a 3 Month Rule of my understanding. I embrace the only thing constant in a spiritual way of life, which is change. I even found myself grateful for every single day that I get to remain in this life. It brings me comfort to believe that death is only a continuation date, preparing you for your next journey! So don’t count the days, make the days count!  It’s important to note that there is no correct way through sorrow. The only correct thing is that one finds their path and embarks on that journey to wellness, whatever that may be for them.

As you see, this book quite literally went on to save my life! It was my journey to wellness. So I write today, not to share a story of hardship. But rather – my embrace to live with a soul so full – that I’m constantly overflowing with the power of healing for others! I challenge you to look inside to your own unresolved grief and seek like-minded individuals to work through any necessary losses. As you can clearly see from my personal experience, One thing is for Certain, Time Does Not Heal. You do! It takes action! For it is what you choose to do within the time, that will make you or break you.

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