Thursday, September 26, 2019

GOOD GRIEF, Acknowledge Guilt and Regret, then Move on

Good Grief: Strategies for Building Resilience and Supporting Transformation

Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.

     Guilt and regret are two powerful feelings that descend upon those suffering the loss of a loved one. You find yourself dissecting the events prior to the loss, looking for things you did wrong that may have led to the loss, things you did not do, or things that you perceived you missed that led to the loss event. I did it, others have done it, and you will too when your time comes.

However, this does not mean you must be trapped in guilt and regret. Remember that hindsight is worthless and only causes anxiety, increased stress — and can lead to depression (which is discussed in a later section). Dwelling on guilt and regret immobilizes you in the past events and keeps you from living in the present.

     Often, you keep your guilt and regrets locked inside while you relive events repeatedly. I am sure that you have heard some say: “You need to share your feelings at a time like this, and you will feel much better.”

     “Right,” you reply, “that’s easier said than done.”

Some people say this and mean it. Maybe they have personal experience and truly relate to what you are going through.

Some people say this because it is expected, an automatic response appropriate for the occasion. Learned behavior from their experiences.

Other people say this and are so sorry they did. They happen to be at the right time and place when you spew forth such painful memories that they are not prepared to hear.

     How do you sort out what to do when overwhelmed with grief and loss? Take a few deep breaths to calm and relax, then go with your gut response. Some things are so personal, however, that you have guilt or regrets about revealing things that would make you feel you were betraying your now-deceased partner and exposing your vulnerability. It’s fine to keep some thoughts private. Share what you want, when you want, and to whom you want.

It will work out.

     Have a care when sharing with others the “what if’s” and the “I should haves” associated with guilt and regret. Although some will listen to you and provide caring, I found it made others very uncomfortable. Some won’t really listen to you; instead, they immediately dismiss your feelings by telling you that you did your best, not what you really want to hear at first. You are looking for positive support and comfort. You just want someone to listen.

Keep in mind that they are having their own issues with the sharing/feeling process too and may not realize it. So, be understanding and patient with them, even though your brain may be screaming, “How do they know what’s your best?”

Again, take a few breaths to calm and relax. Things will really ease up over time…as you gain perspective. Screaming into a pillow, crying, praying, meditating, or other coping strategies may be valuable — I have used them ALL!

Guilt is anger directed at ourselves at what we did or did not do.

                                                                 Peter McWilliams

     Caution! Don’t get stuck in guilt, self-blame, or rehashing negative aspects of the experience. This will torment you, adding to your stress, creating havoc among mind, body and spirit. It’s okay to think about each instance of guilt and regret. Write them down if you must and look at them in black and white. Try to accept what you did and did not do, one item at a time. Forgive yourself and let it go — then forgive yourself and let it go again…and again if you must.

Believe me, forgiving oneself does not happen overnight — it takes time. Later, you will realize that you really did the best you could at the time and under the circumstances. Forgiveness is talked about in another section, as well.

     My daughter and I talked and shared our thoughts:
·       Did we miss something?
·       Could we have prevented this?
·       Why did we not know?
·       What do we do now?

Talking allowed us to bring our fears and thoughts into the open and work through our guilt. We clarified and verified each other’s feelings. I look back every now and again and still spend some time pondering these questions and seeking answers.

Some questions have no answers. I know now and accept that I cannot change the past. I am thankful for the time my husband and I had together. I focus on all the great things we did together.

This is important. I will repeat it.

I still circle back to regrets and guilt now and again, even though I know I cannot change the past and I have forgiven myself.

To overcome the feelings of guilt and regret I wrote on pieces of paper some things that made me remember my husband. I did this over Christmas, four months after his death to “remember” and keep him with me. Eleven months later, as I am writing this, I am looking at them for the first time and with much emotion pouring forth. Tucked in a red Christmas bag with a gold bow were small pieces of folded paper that included:
   special words he created that had only meaning for us (“giesel stacks” for purple-stalked flowers we used to see along the roadside);
   special places we visited (Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, where we rode nine rollercoasters in one day);
   special gifts he gave me (a dog that walks and sings, “I really love the way you walk”);
   all the thank-you’s he gave me for things I did for him (sometimes this annoyed me);
   his smile (one of us would start the smile, then the other would sense it and look and smile back from the soul);
   a favorite quote of his (“I really like beer.”);
   his humor (hiding in closets to jump out and scare me or my daughter);
   his love of horses (he took me to racetracks from the East Coast to the West Coast) and so many more.

These notes helped me stay connected to him as part of my life and reinforce all the positive experiences we shared. I began to let guilt and regret go so I could make room for all the best of memories to shine. I encourage you to do this too.

     Grief is not as heavy as guilt, but it takes more away from you.
                                                     Veronica Roth, Author

     Movies I watched a few times dealt with grief, loss, guilt and regrets allowed me to immerse myself in these emotions. Maybe not the best thing to do, but it was therapeutic for me. I looked at these movies anew through eyes of one who now had experience:

1.      Meet Joe Black (Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt) — This movie dealt with dying, death, and rebirth. It demonstrated the impermanence of life and that it has a natural end — death. It reminded me what is important in relationships — love. I always cry during this movie, yet it makes me feel better. I want to do a better job at relationships now, to make a conscious effort to care, to listen and to wish everyone the best.

2.      Hope Floats (Sandra Bullock; Harry Connick, Jr.) One of my favorite movie tear-jerkers. I love the story, the pain and suffering demonstrated by Sandra that occurs side-by-side with the mother’s optimistic outlook. One scene I remember clearly is when her mother dies and Sandra says, “Not now, momma, not now.” That is just how I felt when my husband died in bed next to me: “Not now, Fred, not now.”
      Watching this movie helped me face the reality of death and           the emotions associated with death — but even more: if I                choose, I could open my heart and let hope float up…renewing me, too.
      There are many other scenes in the movie that provide insight         into the journey through life.

      I love this quote from the movie:
                 Beginnings are scary.
                 Endings are usually sad.
                 But it’s the middle that counts the most.
                 You need to remember that when you find yourself at                       the beginning,
                 Just give hope a chance to float up and it will.

     After a death, your journey with your loved one has ended, but another journey lays ahead of you. I encourage you: take steps to let go of the sadness, guilt, and regret…embracing hope in the new beginning, though you may feel scared.  This is hard work, I kid you not — but well worth the effort. Now it’s your turn to create a guilt and regret resolution list:
   places to go,
   people to see,
   movies to watch,
   books to read, or
   any activity that help you to resolve these negative emotions and lift you spirit.

See the next page for a form to use or just make your own list. Take another step to happiness — SMILE — you are loved!


·       I give myself permission to change.
·       I accept myself for who I am.
·       I know I cannot change the past.
·       I am kind to myself.
·       I accept that I am on a journey of change that will result in new opportunities.


With her permission, I am serializing here nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise. 

Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD

Perhaps the easiest way to obtain a copy of her book, published by Outskirts Press, is through this Amazon link: 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Understanding Sassie: A Novel of Dog and Human Communication

Ruth continued to spend time with Sassie.  In between her work duties, she was able to reinforce Sassie’s positive association with hands near her food bowl.  Ruth’s training continued to be a positive experience for Sassie.

Ruth continued to bring some meat scraps from home because she knew that Sassie considered them high-value treats.  She was willing to work and try to please Ruth when she had these treats. 

When the six-day waiting period was over and no one came to claim Sassie, the veterinarian inoculated Sassie with the routine shots.  

Ruth walked in as the veterinarian was giving the report on Sassie to Jane.  “Her exam is satisfactory – actually better than that – I would say everything is good.  Her heart rate is good.  Temperature is normal.  Mouth looks healthy and teeth are in good shape.  There are no skin lesions, and her hair is shiny and free of pests.  I’ll know more when her bloodwork comes back, but she appears to be healthy.  I’m no expert on behavior, but she seems to be friendly and playful.  I think someone will be adopting a wonderful dog.”

Jane smiled at the report and asked, “When will she be spayed?”

“I will schedule the procedure for tomorrow,” was the vet’s reply.

Jane walked him to the exit and returned to Ruth.  “If the basic behavior test is successful we may be able to consider your request for this dog.”

Ruth could not contain her joy.  She felt like hugging Jane but thought that that would not be proper.  She simply danced around and did her own “happy dance.” 

Jane continued, “Now remember, it is not a done deal yet.  She will need to pass the behavior test.  I’m not sure when Millie will be giving this test, but I’ll check with her this week.”

Ruth replied to Jane’s remark, “I understand.” 

At the diner, Millie continued to enjoy her waitress job.  She loved meeting people and enjoyed serving them delicious food.  The tips were a big help in paying her college expenses.  She had earned a college scholarship, but books and supplies for homework as well as other small essentials seemed to chip away at her savings.  She appreciated Mike’s large tips, not only for the fact that he seemed to recognize her need for money, but for his encouragement and compassion whenever they were able to talk. 

Millie had been studying the behavior of animals and would soon be earning a degree in animal behavioral science.  She had been a dog walker at the Riverview Shelter for many years and loved to help Jane during the Saturday puppy play dates.  She felt comfortable doing the basic dog temperament evaluation and was able to help Jane match the perfect dog with its forever home. 

Today she was planning to do a quick overview of some of the dogs at the shelter.  She hoped to be able to select a group of dogs for the temperament evaluation she planned to schedule soon. 

She had heard that there was a new volunteer at the shelter and wanted to meet the woman Jane described as a treasure.  The diner was empty, and Millie recognized that it was time to clean up and put up the closed sign. 

After locking the diner’s door, she walked to her car.  Millie climbed into her car and turned the radio on.  The music was pleasant, and she discovered herself singing with the radio as it started to play her favorite song.  The Riverview Shelter was a quick drive from the diner.  Within minutes she pulled into the shelter entrance and found a parking spot in the staff parking lot.  She picked up the clip board with the shelter information that she would need and locked the car.  As soon as she entered the shelter, she saw that Jane was at her desk.  She seemed to be concentrating on paperwork.  

“Never-ending paper work?”  Millie asked. 

Jane smiled when she heard Millie’s voice.  “I’m happy to see you!”  Jane replied. 

“I want to go over some ideas for next Saturday’s Puppy Play Time.”  Millie answered with a smile and nodded her head yes as she sat down in a chair across from Jane. 

Jane was comfortable with sharing her thoughts and concerns with Millie, who had proved to be honest and sincere whenever she talked to Jane.  Often Millie was able to apply some of the scientific college information when she answered Jane’s concerns. 

Millie was glad to help her friend.  She knew that Jane was always in need of volunteers, and her work at the shelter seemed to be never-ending. 

They continued to talk for a while and as Jane stood up, she said, “Come meet Ruth.  She is probably in with Sassie, our young Golden mix.” 

Millie followed Jane and saw Ruth on the floor with Sassie.  “What a beautiful young dog!  Is there a reason you named her Sassie?”  Millie asked. 

Ruth was pleased at Millie’s reaction to Sassie and responded to her question with a smile.  “She seems to have a bit of a sassy nature, so I thought the name Sassie was a good match to her personality.” 

Millie was careful not to stare into Sassie’s eyes as she fished a treat from her pocket.  Millie stood at a right angle to the dog as she held the treat down to Sassie’s nose.  Sassie sniffed the treat and decided to accept the gift. 

Millie turned to Jane and asked, “Is this the person that you have described as your treasure?”  Jane nodded yes and introduced Ruth and Millie.  Ruth felt comfortable with Millie and delighted that Jane would call her a "treasure."

They shook hands.  Millie remembered that she wanted to start a list for her dog temperament evaluations, so she turned to Jane and said, “I’d like to start the testing with Sassie.  I believe you said that you have other dogs that will need testing?” 

Jane and Millie moved to look at some of the other dogs as they continued to talk.

Ruth began to talk to Sassie, “Remember, you are loved.  You are special, and I’d like to give you a special forever home.  When you have your temperament test, you will need to be on your best behavior.” 

Sassie kept wagging her tail and kissed Ruth’s hand as if to say, “I’ll do my best.”

Ruth knew that the testing would be an important event for Sassie.  Ruth thought, an important event for me as well. 

Ruth decided to practice some more of the items on the temperament test, so she put a leash on Sassie’s collar and grabbed her bag of treats.  Ruth had already taught Sassie that the leash was just a guide.  Sassie knew that if she stayed near Ruth she would randomly get a treat.  Sassie kept an eye on Ruth because she knew that Ruth was interesting and that surprisingly good things would happen if she watched Ruth’s body language. 

As Ruth was walking Sassie, she stopped to get a pig’s ear from the store room.  Sassie had never seen a pig’s ear before, but this new object had an interesting smell and Sassie wanted to investigate this new thing.  The closet that held the fake hand was nearby, and Ruth obtained the hand before letting Sassie have the pig’s ear. 

The hall in this area was wide and free of distractions.   This is why Ruth decided to practice this temperament test item here.  Ruth placed the pig’s ear on the floor and encouraged Sassie to chew on it.  As Sassie started to chew on this treat she saw a strange hand reaching for the pig’s ear. 

At first Sassie did not want to let the strange hand get near the pig’s ear.  Sassie grabbed the ear and moved it away from the strange hand.  Then she heard Ruth say, “Trade” and thought about the meat treats that she had gotten whenever Ruth used this word.  She decided that the meat treat was better than this pig ear, so she dropped the pig’s ear and sat waiting for her treat. 

The fake hand was then able to move the pig’s ear because Ruth had given a meat scrap to Sassie.  “Good girl!” Ruth kept saying to Sassie.

They practiced this procedure several times.  Sassie was willing to let Ruth take the pig’s ear every time.  It was a successful training session.  

Ruth knew that it was time to leave, but she took a few minutes to brush Sassie’s hair and change her water.  Ruth felt reluctant to leave; she knew she had to go home and make sure that Mom was obeying the doctor’s orders.


With her permission, I am serializing a chapter a week, on this blog, the material from this novel by Helen A. Bemis, published by Outskirts Press and available through

Saturday, September 21, 2019

GOOD GRIEF, Visit the SPCA or Hug Your Pet

Good Grief: Strategies for Building Resilience and Supporting Transformation

Animals are such agreeable friends — they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.
                             — George Elliot

     Talking to the animals and petting them has been proven to be therapeutic under normal circumstances, but during times of stress, pets are an invaluable asset in the recovery process. They offer unconditional love — and more. As you lean toward them, they move toward you, some more hesitant than others due to their experience with humans. Yet, they wag their tails as you tell them your tale of woe; they lick your hand as you pet them or scratch their fur, making eye contact, seeking solace in each other’s presence. Those who already have a pet know this. Those who do not have a pet can still experience this feeling…as I did: just take a trip to your local animal shelter.

     The thought to visit the local SPCA was not unusual for me. I have donated old towels, sheets, and newspapers on a regular basis in the past — always taking time to walk among the dogs in their cages and say hello. Although there were also many cats awaiting adoption in their separate section for those preferring these fluffy pets, I have always been drawn to dogs.

     On one of these visits to drop off a bag of newspapers, I met Daisy, a lonely Shih Tzu sitting in her dark and secluded cage in the back area of the building. The only source of comfort for her was the small, old, tattered rag upon which she sat.

I talked to her: How are you doing there? Are you as lonely and scared as I am?”

Of course, I did not expect an answer. But it was good to give voice to my thoughts of grief, loss, and sadness that needed to have someone listen to them in silence, without telling me how I should feel and what I should do.

     Listening skills are often undervalued, but are powerful support elements to comfort those grieving. Daisy gave me her undivided attention as I came closer. Although wary at first, she came to the front of the cage so I could pet her. I peered into her eyes and noticed that the eyes looking back at me resembled the same sad, lonely eyes I saw reflected in my mirror every day. I felt a connection between us. I wondered if she felt what I felt, as I started to relax a bit. I talked to many of the dogs that day. In fact, that day I talked to all the dogs, large and small.

     I felt good when I left. I hope Daisy felt some comfort from our visit, too. So, why didn’t I take Daisy home with me? I would have liked to — it was not the right time.

A pet deserves much more than being just a Band-Aid for the emotional distress of my grief and loss. I already had enough responsibility, distractions, and emotional chaos, with all my energy focused on just getting through each day. If you are thinking of adoption, take a moment to evaluate your needs and choose a pet that connects with you and your needs. Some pet shelters offer the opportunity to take a dog you are interested in for a walk in a fenced-in area. When thinking of adoption, be sure this is right for you. You are making a long-term commitment when you choose to have a pet.

     Another time, I visited my friend, Anne, at her home. She had both a cat and dog. I took just one step into her home, and her pets immediately sought me out. They kept close by my side, in my lap, or nuzzling me the entire visit. I was a magnet of emotional negativity drawing the positivity of pet energy toward me — whoosh!

     Yes, animals seem to sense what I now call “disturbances in the force,” human emotions, whether happy, sad, lonely, angry and so on. Dogs look you in the eye, wag their tails, and quiver with excitement when they see you. They offer themselves to you unconditionally. You cannot escape their undivided attention as their love and affection gushes forth.

My response to them was similar — spontaneous and caring. I smiled back at them, even though I felt I had no reason to smile. I talked to them, even though my mind was still telling me to keep silent so I would not scream or hurt others with my words. And I shared my loving caresses…petting and hugging them, even when I thought I had no more love to give. Pet therapy in action!

     Pet therapy has always existed, rarely studied or validated. Lately, much research has been done on the therapeutic aspects of pets, validating benefits to one’s health and wellness, now accepted by mainstream health and wellness practitioners.

Today, pets in a variety of settings bring joy and caring to those in need. Therapy dogs visit nursing homes and other such facilities to interact with residents and provide the opportunity for emotional connection and healing touch. You can see the delight and joy in the residents’ eyes, watch their hands reaching out to touch and pet the dog, notice the soft words spoken. A pet can provide companionship for elders living alone. Anyone who has a pet can provide testimony as to how they are comforted by their pet’s presence: these companion animals keep their owners company, give them a reason to live, and can even warn them of intruders.

     No wonder you feel so much better with a pet of your own or a pet shared by a friend or family member. I still visit the SPCA on occasion to talk to the dogs.

A neighbor, Ben, shares his dog with me by inviting me to his home. He prepares the dog for my visit by saying: Cheryl’s coming.

Ben says his dog dances around the room in anticipation and then waits by the door or front window anticipating my visit. I do love this attention. When I come in the door, she is all aquiver on the top step, watching me closely. She dances around me when I get to the top of the stairs — while looking directly at my face and joyfully wagging her tail. I feel so welcome and appreciated, my spirit renewed. I return this joyful energy, talking to her, petting her, and letting her perch on my lap…such special moments. I wish for you to experience them yourselves.


·       I feel the comfort of pets as I hug them, look into their eyes, and see their excited expressions when I am near.
·       I value the special qualities of pets’ unconditional love.
·       I am grateful for those who share their pets with me.


With her permission, I am serializing here nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise. 

Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD

Perhaps the easiest way to obtain a copy of her book, published by Outskirts Press, is through this Amazon link: 


Sassie awoke to several strange noises.  At first, she was confused.  She could not smell the pines, the scent of her littermates, nor any of the normal woody smells.  She looked at her surroundings and began to recognize some of the new smells.  She remembered the kind lady that gave her treats.  Sassie remembered how she had carried her to this area. 

Yesterday when Ruth had brought her to this area, she had stayed with her for a time.  Ruth gave Sassie lots of good treats.  She also gave her a fuzzy toy that made a squeaky noise.  Ruth even played a game with Sassie and the toy. 

Sassie decided to show the Play Bow to Ruth as they played with the fuzzy thing.  Ruth refilled her water bowl and left some food.  Sassie could smell Ruth’s scent start to fade as she left the building.  Sassie had enjoyed Ruth’s company. 

The fuzzy thing did have some of Ruth’s sent on it, so Sassie had placed her chin on the toy and fell asleep.  She dreamed of playing with her siblings and the joy she had running in the forest.

She liked the memory of Ruth, but this was a new day, and Sassie kept wondering about the strange sounds she kept hearing.  When the door to Sassie’s area opened, the sounds became very loud.  It seemed like a combination of dog cries and those metal machines that she had heard near the forest.  Jane was making her usual early morning rounds of the shelter.  As she entered this area she spoke to Sassie, “Were you able to rest last night?”  Sassie wagged her tail in response.  Jane offered Sassie a treat and she willingly received it.  

The door opened again, and Sassie smelled Ruth.  Ruth was entering the area carrying Sassie’s food bowl.  Sassie was giving a happy dance in her excitement of seeing Ruth.  The food bowl was put in front of Sassie.  Then Ruth did a very strange thing.  Instead of leaving the bowl and letting Sassie eat, Ruth began to put a few pieces of meat into the dish as Sassie was eating.  Every so often, Sassie felt Ruth’s hand go into her food dish, but it always meant that good things were being added to her food. 

I guess Ruth’s hand is good, Sassie decided.  She relaxed.  Ruth had been able to train her Collie not to worry about the hand going near his food.  She wanted to make sure that Sassie would welcome any hand that goes near her food bowl.  Sassie had once again discovered that she could trust Ruth.  She also discovered that Ruth was very clumsy.  Every time Ruth picked up Sassie’s dish she would drop it.  Sassie did not mind, because a piece of meat seemed to appear right after the noise of the dish.  She began to look forward to the noise. 

Then Ruth began to drop the clipboard she had been carrying.  Sassie discovered that a piece of meat would appear whenever she heard this noise.  She began to hope that any loud or strange noise would suddenly surprise her because a piece of meat would also suddenly appear.  The meat did not always come, but because the piece of meat did come occasionally, Sassie was no longer afraid of any type of noise. 

Sassie discovered that Ruth was fun to watch.  Sometimes she would put on a silly hat and dance around.  Sometimes, she would wear dark glasses and a funny-looking nose. 

Another strange game that Ruth was teaching Sassie was a game that involved the toys that Sassie loved to play with.  Ruth would give Sassie a toy and then say, “Trade.”

When Sassie dropped the toy, Ruth would give her a piece of meat.  Most times, Ruth would return the toy to Sassie.  Occasionally, she would say, “Drop it” and she gave Sassie the piece of meat.  Once again, Sassie recognized that many times Ruth would return the toy. 

Occasionally when Ruth would say either “Trade” or “Drop it” and give Sassie a piece of meat she would randomly make the toy disappear for a time.  Most times whenever this happened Ruth liked to give Sassie several pieces of meat.

Whenever Sassie seemed to be unsure of something and acted small, she would look at Ruth to see if she was upset about the situation.  If Ruth looked relaxed and ignored the problem that Sassie was reacting to, Sassie felt that all was okay, and she relaxed too.  Ruth made sure that Sassie was constantly getting a piece of meat and lots of love whenever she encountered new experiences.

Sassie discovered that when others put their hands near her dish, they made good things go into her dish.  Sometimes when they reached for a toy they would forget to say, “Trade” or “drop it,” but she would still get a treat if she let them pick up her prized item.  She also found that most times the item would be returned to her as well.

Sometimes, if it was a ball, they would play throw and “fetch” immediately after she picked up the ball.  She loved this game of fetch because she got a few treats whenever she brought the ball back to the person. 

Understanding Sassie: A Novel of Dog and Human Communication

With her permission, I am serializing a chapter a week, on this blog, the material from this novel by Helen A. Bemis, published by Outskirts Press and available through

Monday, September 16, 2019

ELEMENTS OF STYLE, 21 Hints to Improve Your Writing

Elements of Style, Fourth Edition
 By William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White

This excellent classic has been updated recently and remains one of the best concise guides to fine writing.

In one portion of the book, the writers give 21 hints to improved writing, and explain each in, typically, a few pages of text. Here are the hints:

1. Place yourself in the background.
2. Write in a way that comes naturally.
3. Work from a suitable design.
4. Write with nouns and verbs.
5. Revise and re-write.
6. Do not overwrite.
7. Do not overstate.
8 . Avoid the use of qualifiers.
9. Do not affect a breezy manner.
10. Use orthodox spelling.
11. Do not explain too much.
12. Do not construct awkward adverbs.
13. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking.
14. Avoid fancy words.
15. Do not use dialect and less your ear is good.
16. Be clear.
17. Do not inject opinion.
18. Use figures of speech sparingly.
19. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.
20. Avoid foreign languages.
21. Prefer the standard to the offbeat.

Their explanations and examples are well worth reading.

                                        The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

The book is available from at