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.

You may also find to be a helpful resource.



Lincoln’s Coffin

December 28th, 2014

Licncoln coffinEvergreen Washelli Memorial Park will have the honor of presenting a full replica of Abraham Lincoln’s coffin from Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th through President’s Day on February 16th. The coffin will be on display at Life Celebrations by Washelli in Bothell, February 12, from 12:00-5:00pm with a special presentation at 3:00pm. Then it will be on display at the Evergreen Washelli main office, February 14-16th from 12:00-5:00pm, with another presentation on February 16th at 3:00pm.

While the real Lincoln’s coffin went on a train tour from Washington D.C. to the president’s hometown of Springfield, IL where he was initially laid to rest, this replica is one of four, crafted with painstaking detail, which have been touring the country since the early 1990s.

In a brief, somewhat ridiculous episode in 1876— eleven years after President Lincoln’s death— a gang of counterfeiters whose chief engraver had been arrested hatched a plan to spring him and make some extra cash on the side ($200,000 to be exact, or ~$4,000,000 in 2014 dollars). The plan was less than ingenious: steal the President’s body, demand the ransom and the release of their compatriot, get away clean—that last part was of utmost importance.

The original members of the gang weren’t experienced grave robbers, so they brought on Lewis Swegles and Billy Brown to assist them. Unfortunately, what they hadn’t considered is that the coffin was lined with lead and weighed over 500 pounds. They were able to budge it just a few inches. When they sent Swegles out to retrieve the wagon, he instead tipped off federal agents who were waiting nearby—Swegles and Brown were both paid informants of the United States Secret Service, and had been from the beginning. The plan, which was never particularly devious to begin with, had been doomed from the start.

Nervous of more competent grave robbers John Carroll Power, the tomb custodian, had Lincoln’s coffin moved to the basement of the tomb. Discovering the soil was too wet to dig, they disguised Lincoln’s ornate coffin as a stack of lumber for a time before finding a suitable place to discreetly lay Lincoln to rest.

In September 1901 Lincoln was moved one last time to be buried 10 feet deep inside a steel cage, encased in cement.

President Lincoln’s coffin (and by extension, the replica) was elaborately crafted. Custom-made at 6 feet, 6 inches long, the coffin was solid walnut, lined with lead and covered in fine black cloth. It was studded with sterling silver, with sterling silver handles to match. The replica, made in great detail after photographs of the coffin does not contain the lead lining of the original.

Viewings for the general public are from 12:00pm-5:00pm, Thursday 2/12/15-Monday 2/16/15. There is no charge for admission. (If your group is larger than 9 people, please phone ahead to schedule an appointment).

If you have any questions, or if you or an organization you represent would like to arrange an event around this remarkable piece of history, please contact, or at 206-362-5200 ext. 122.



The Christmas Truce of 1914

December 4th, 2014


This year marking the 100th anniversary of World War I, this December also marks the anniversary of 1914’s Weihnachtsfrieden, or Trêve de Noël, or in English, Christmas Truce. This was a period of time from Christmas Eve until Christmas day (longer in some areas), where the front-line troops on both sides began a spontaneous, unofficial cease-fire, much to the chagrin of their commanding officers. Though not universal—some areas continued with hostilities right through the holiday—the event was very broad in scope, with multiple regions independently coming to the same non-violent decision.

The truce primarily happened between French/British and German forces, though there are also reports of an Austrian-Russian truce at the same time.  The United States, which officially joined the war in three years after in 1917, obviously wasn’t in a position to participate.  Most areas affected by the truce sang Christmas carols across the trenches to one another. In some areas troops were so bold as to venture out into no-man’s land to exchange food and souvenirs. There are also accounts of at least three different football (soccer) matches broke out as well at various locations.

While it seems like a very surprising, not to mention quaint story, according to Tony Ashworth’s book “Trench Warfare 1914-1918: The Live and Let Live System,” informal regional truces were not uncommon at all. They would form complicated agreements not to attack each other at tea or meal-times and patches of the front line would sometimes go days without any casualties at all. According to Ashworth’s book, the most remarkable thing about the Christmas Truce was how widespread it was.

1915 saw a similar, albeit smaller, Christmas Truce and evidence submitted to the University of Aberdeen in 2011 shows reiterations of the Christmas Truce happening as late as 1916.

In subsequent years, perhaps influenced by increasingly violent tactics used (phosphine gas saw some use in 1915, but 1917 saw the widespread use of mustard gas); or perhaps because of the attempts by military officers to keep strict control over their troops in the face of a very gentle mutiny, the Christmas Truce waned into a cheerful historical curiosity.


Grieving, Not Alone

December 1st, 2014

If you have ever grieved anyone you are probably familiar with the sense of isolation it can bring. Even if your support system involves an endless supply of neighborly casseroles, and friends and family available to talk at any time of day (or night), bereavement often carries with it a sense of loneliness. Part of it may be the sudden silence in your life that your loved one occupied, but a great deal of this sense of isolation is due to the fact that everyone’s experience of grief is different.

But just as grief is unique in variety, it is also a shared human experience. Everyone has at least the capacity for it, even those people young and fortunate enough to not know grief personally, and with that capacity is a type of unity. No one is truly alone in grief; we are all singing the same song, we just sing it in different dialects.

If you’re grieving, invite a close friend out for coffee, or dinner, or a park. Tell them in advance what you would like to talk about. It’s an easy mistake to assume a dear friend will intuit that you need to have   a real, deep-tissue conversation about a topic such as mourning. Think of it as telling a pilot which runway they will be landing on. It will make the conversations easier and put the pilot more at ease.

If grief is a song, support is the song’s harmony. If you know someone who is grieving, invite them for something uncommon but comfortable, just the two of you (and something that you can talk over!). Take the hassle out of it as much as you can, and work around their schedule, and of course be ready for the conversation to turn to grief. The novelty will both feel nice and help foster novel conversations.

And of course, whether or not you have a support system built out of friends and family, please avail yourself of a therapeutic resource in your area, be it individual therapy or a support group. Help isn’t a weakness and it isn’t something designed for other people. If you’re suffering then you are specifically who it is designed for—you can figure out how to coal-walk on your own, but the advice of a professional coal-walker might keep you from singeing your toes.

Grief and Bereavement Support Services

Our grief-support resources can be found here with persistent email support here

There are also many, many excellent support groups everywhere in the country and certainly in your area. Some of them specify in a particular type of tragedy but if you aren’t sure where you fit, there are also more open support resources available to you.

Providence Hospice of Seattle offers a wide variety of support services to adults and children alike. (many are free, some are open to drop-ins too):

The Compassionate Friends is an support network specifically dedicated to helping parents, siblings and grandparents of deceased children, no matter their age (completely free, drop-ins always welcome):

Swedish Edmonds also offers a wide variety of bereavement support groups from  suicide survivor’s groups to those in the early days of grieving, to ongoing grief at many different locations. (completely free, most groups open to drop-ins):

If none of these seem like they quite fit, here is a megalist of groups in the King County area, from the University of Washington:


Comfort Food: Tomato-Basil Gnocchi with Sausage

December 1st, 2014
edited photo by flickr user Ewan Munro

edited photo by flickr user Ewan Munro

We’re now in that awkward time between one feast-holiday and another. But just because you’re struggling with cooking fatigue is no reason to eat ketchup sandwiches. Behold!  The easiest, most delicious meal you’ll ever make.

4 ingredients, zero measuring. 20 minutes start-to-finish. Feeds 4.


  • 1 package cherry tomatoes
  • 1 package flavored sausage (what flavor and what meat don’t matter)
  • 1 package gnocchi
  • Handfulish fresh (or frozen) basil


  • Cut the sausages into disks.
  • Fry them in a large frying pan (medium-high heat) until they’re browned.
  • Boil water with a pinch of salt in a small pot.
  • Dump the cherry tomatoes in with the sausage. Stir it around a bit. Cover.
  • Put the gnocchi in the water and reduce the heat.
  • Once the gnocchi start bobbing to the surface, they’re done. Drain them, and dump them in with the sausage and the tomatoes.
  • Dump the basil in. Stir it around a bit. Cover.
  • It’s done once the tomatoes are bursting. (Any unburst tomatoes will be very hot inside, so make sure you mash them with a fork before you take a bite).


Don’t have gnocchi? Just pick any pasta. It’ll work.

Don’t have fancy, flavored sausage? Don’t sweat it. Still tastes great.

For the advanced version of this recipe, add 1-2 cloves of garlic (minced or just smashed) when you add the tomatoes.

If you want the extra-challenging, super-difficult version– if you think you can handle it– sprinkle parmesan cheese on top after serving.


Thank you Veterans Day Volunteers!

November 21st, 2014


Veterans Day 2014
We’d like to thank the many volunteers– scout troops, veterans’ organization, churches, families and neighbors– who helped us in honoring our veteran’s at our Veteran’s Day flag placement as well as those who attended the ceremony after.  You made this year’s services both possible and excellent.

Flag Placement, Veterans Day 2014

Flag Placement, Veterans Day 2014

Flag Placement, Veterans Day 2014

Flag Placement, Veterans Day 2014

Color Guard - Veterans Day 2014

Flag Placement, Veterans Day 2014

Guest Speaker Cpt. Ed Hrivnak, Veterans Day 2014

Veterans Day 2014

Flag Placement, Veterans Day 2014

Veterans Day 2014

Flag Placement, Veterans Day 2014

Doughboy, Veteran's Day 2014

Photos by Brian Braathen and Sandy Matthie.

Pink Day!

October 31st, 2014


This photo was taken at the end of Think Pink Week, our annual fundraiser for Breast Cancer Research.


Recipe: Amazing Kumquat-Cranberry Sauce

October 29th, 2014

Cranberry sauce photo - flickr user Nomadic Lass

photo by flickr user Nomadic Lass


Preparation Time: Total Time: 1 1/2 hours; Actual Work Time: 30 minutes.

Makes: About 2 1/2 cups

2 cups kumquats (or 9-10 ounces), trimmed
a 12-ounce bag of fresh or frozen cranberries (or, about 3 1/2 cups)
3/4 cups water
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

First up: Removing the kumquat’s natural bitterness.
Prick the kumquats 2-3 times with a fork. In a saucepan cover them generously in cold water and bring to a boil.
Drain and rinse with cold water.
Repeat this process 2 more times.

Next step: Getting the kumquat flavor.
Put the kumquats, suger and water together over high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Remove from the heat and allow it to cool for about 20 minutes.
Move the kumquats with a slotted spoon to a bowl, but keep the syrup in the saucepan. (You now have kumquat flavored syrup and kumquats for little flavor bursts in the final product).

Next: the Cranberries.
Add the cranberries and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the sugar/water syrup.
Bring the cranberries/syrup mixture to a boil over high heat.
While they cook, quarter the kumquats, discarding the seeds as you go.
Once the cranberries are at a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 8-12 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally
(You know it’s cooked when the cranberries start to burst).
Stir the kumquats into the cranberry mixture and transfer to a bowl. Cool completely, stirring occasionally– should take about 30 minutes.

The final step is the most important step of all: Enjoy!

Recipe from the November 2007 issue of Gourmet Magazine.


Interested in a truly excellent follow-up recipe? Check in at our facebook page next week!
And as always, join our newsletter or click here to keep up-to-date on all our upcoming events.



Todos los Santos

September 19th, 2014

Working in close collaboration with the International Drop-In Center (IDIC) and special participation by the Filipino Community of Seattle (FCS), the management of Evergreen-Washelli invites you to attend the annual observance of Todos los Santos.

One of the most significant Philippine faith traditions Todos los Santos, or All Saints Day, is a day of remembrance for religious figures as well as ancestors and other loved ones.

The event will begin at 3:00pm, and will include a special interfaith ceremony. Families will have the opportunity to light candles and offer flowers to departed loved ones, whether their final resting places are in the U.S., in the Philippines, or elsewhere.

There will be a light snack of pancit and lumpia provided.

For more information check out or facebook page, and stay up-do-date with our events calendar.


Captain Ed Hrivnak Speaking at 65th Annual Veterans Day Service

September 19th, 2014
Captain Ed Hrivnak

Captain Ed Hrivnak

Join us Tuesday, November 11th for a concert and  Service of Remembrance at the 65th Annual Veterans Day service in Veterans Memorial Cemetery located on the grounds of Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park.

Our special guest speaker will be retired commissioned officer Captain Ed Hrivnak.

Captain Hrivnak enlisted at age seventeen, rising through the ranks to a commissioned flight nurse.  He is a veteran of Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as several peacekeeping missions. His wartime experience compelled him to write WOUNDED, A Legacy of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The memoir details valiant accounts of battle, followed by the challenges of caring for the injured, and how soldiers persevere.

Hrivnak retired after twenty years in the Active Duty and Air Force Reserve, and continues to serve his community as an assistant fire chief for the fourth-largest fire department in Washington State, Central Pierce Fire and Rescue. A strong believer in volunteering, Captain Hrivnak donates his time as a civilian pilot for Snohomish Helicopter Rescue Team. His awards include; the Aerial Achievement Medal, for evacuating 800 casualties without a single loss of life in-flight, the Mountain Rescue Association’s life saving award, for his aircrew’s rescue of eight victims in the first hours of the Oso mudslide, and Pacific Lutheran University’s 2014 Alumni Service Award.

Veterans Day Program:

7:00am - Flag placement at the Lower Veterans Memorial Cemetery

10:30am –  Music by the Eagles and Letter-Carriers Band

11:00am – Service of Remembrance

To stay current on upcoming events, visit our events page, or visit our facebook page.