a novel way to help people through grief

a novel way to help people through grief

Some silver linings have come out of the loss of my dear brother-in-law, Jeff, a man I’ve known since I was thirteen years old. I thought I knew him pretty well after thirty-five years, but even in death, he left some surprises for me. Here is the story in the hope it might give others a similar idea if in the same situation.

My sister and I had the extreme luck of working with the most caring and capable man at Herberger’s Funeral Home in Elk Grove. John Lambdin was extremely kind and comforting; but even more, he helped shape Jeff’s service into the most memorable send off I’ve ever seen. You see, Jeff was a constant prankster (e.g. while driving our family’s boat, he yelled “Man Overboard!” before leaping over the side into Folsom Lake – thankfully, my husband shared that humorous tale when he spoke at the service; it epitomized Jeff’s wacky sense of humor).

In the midst of our talks about what constitutes a memorial service (the first one either of us had ever planned), John suggested the value of having something tangible for people to hold during the event so they might feel closer to the one who has departed. He said, “Was your husband a gambler, by chance? If so, you could distribute poker chips to the attendees.” We laughed and said it was a better choice for one of our brothers. I lamely suggested mini flags (since Jeff had been a Marine at one time) but that didn’t feel right at all.

Then, Lori said, “Well, there is this thing about raw elbow macaroni.” Who knew Jeff liked to crunch on handfuls of dry macaroni while watching TV? Maybe it harkened back to his childhood when he searched the cabinets for a snack. Or maybe he just liked crunchy things. Nevertheless, it was a habit that bewildered and amused my sister over the years. She had no idea how big a habit it was, however, until they moved the couch one day. In addition to her son’s lost iPod, they uncovered a treasure trove of raw elbow macaroni, peanut M&M’s and various other crunchy bits.

John and I were laughing at the memory when I turned to my sister and said, “Trail Mix. Let’s make some Jeff Ried Memorial Trail Mix to distribute at the service.” Everyone agreed it was a unique idea and off we went. We enlisted the help of my sister’s amazing best friend, Denise, and purchased the necessary ingredients: elbow macaroni, peanut M&M’s, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Then, we walked around and around the island in my sister’s kitchen, filling the bags.

At my computer, I tried to channel Jeff’s sense of humor as I designed the labels. Hopefully, it’s close to what he himself would have written.

We kept the project a secret until it was my turn to speak at the service. I gave a brief overview of John’s suggestion about bringing everyone closer to our lost loved one, then Denise and I brought out the baskets containing the trail mix packets.

I believe it did exactly as intended: connected everyone more closely to the funny, beautiful and unique soul of our Jeff. It is my hope the recipients will put the bag away for a while and happen upon it by chance sometime in the future. And in doing so, they’ll remember how blessed we all have been by Jeff’s presence in our lives.

Please stay tuned for my next installment, “Let me tell you a story…” inspired by the wonderful pastor, Val Sutter, who officiated at Jeff’s service.