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John James, founder of The Grief Recovery Institute

John W. James

Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute®
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve

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In the wake of the recent deaths of Robin Williams and Joan Rivers, this preiviously published article has good advice for all.

Today I feel compelled to write about a personal loss, that just happens to be one of the national obituaries currently featured on the home page of www.tributes.com.

Usually our articles are aimed at helping grieving people understand that their grief is the normal and natural reaction to the death of someone meaningful to them. Sometimes, our awareness of the death is very first-hand, if we were in the room when that person took his or her last breath. Sometimes, the awareness comes in a phone call from a relative or friend.

When we are somewhat removed from the immediate inner circle, our awareness often comes from an obituary in our local paper. And just today, I became aware of the death of my second cousin, Richard Ben Cramer, on Tributes.com.

Richard was from Rochester, NY, which I refer to as my hometown. Although I wasn’t born there, my family moved there when I was three. It’s the first place that I remember from my childhood, so it represents the beginning of my conscious memories of my life.

My mother was a Rochesterian, born and raised. The Cramers were her side of the family, her aunts, uncles, ad cousins. She was very close with them and of course she was right there when Richard was born.

I was only about eight when Richard was born, which is about the time my family moved from Rochester to Miami Beach, Florida. That being the case, I don’t remember meeting Richard back then. I’m also not sure if I ever actually met him at family reunions along the way over the past 60 years.

However I do remember the email from one of my cousins telling us that Richard’s latest book, Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life, had just been released. I rushed out and got a copy and devoured it. Richard was an incredible writer. As an author myself, I have massive respect for Richard’s skill as a writer. And, as a lifelong, almost fanatic fan of baseball, I would have loved to have had the chance to spend some time with Richard, talking with him about my passion for baseball and very much to pick his brains about “Joltin" Joe DiMaggio. In fact, I remember while reading the book, thinking that I had to make a point of emailing or calling Richard, making contact with the idea of establishing a family connection and friendship that probably would have happened had I not moved away from Rochester so long ago.

That brings me to the point I’d like to make in telling my personal story.

For the past 26 years I’ve been the executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute. In that capacity, I’ve spent countless hours helping grieving people understand some basic issues about grief and grief recovery. One of the main points we make when talking to grievers is that when a relationship is ended by the death of one of the people, we are always left with things we wish had been different, better, or more; and with a host of unrealized hopes, dreams, and expectations about the future. [Note - When we say relationships end with death, we mean the physical relationship. The emotional and spiritual aspects of the relationship goes on with you as long as you’re alive.]

This morning, as I stared at the picture of my cousin on Tributes. com, I was struck by the amazing resemblance he bore to my younger, who is the same age as Richard was. At first I was confused about how similar they look, and then I remembered that that in blood relatives there’s a strong possibility of family members looking alike. I suspect that Richard also looked a bit like me, but nowhere near the eerie closeness to my brother.

So, here I sit, realizing that I’m left with a great deal of unfinished business about my cousin, who I never got to know, and who, I’m not sure I ever met. IN addition to Richard’s death, the really sad news is that I never followed up on my plan to contact him. After I finished reading his book, other things in life got in the way, and not having made myself a big reminder note to contact him, the idea fell by the wayside.

Talk about different, better, or more, and unrealized hopes, dreams, and expectations about the future!

And I know better. I know how important it is to follow those correct impulses to contact people, whether it’s someone we knew well, with whom we’ve been out of touch; or if it’s someone like Richard, who was part of my life, but who I never met.

Now I have to deal with what I left unfinished by my own non-action.

Today, of all days, I cannot encourage you enough to follow those impulses you have to call, email, or visit. There are many things we have on control over, including when someone important to us may die. But we do have some control over making contact, so that while we may be said when someone meaningful to our life dies, we won’t be left with unfinished emotional business that didn’ have to be.

What are you waiting for? Go make some calls, or write some emails. Now's the time!

© 2022 John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute®. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at info@griefrecoverymethod.com or by phone, 800-334-7606.

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