Lincoln and Embracing Grief

Men of power sat around him. . . all struggling with their tears — great hearts sorrowing with the president as a stricken man and a brother.” Nathan Parker Willis on the Death of Lincoln

On February 20, 1862, William Wallace Lincoln, the 11-year-old son of President and Mrs. Lincoln, died of typhoid fever.  The openly mourning president would become a symbol of our nation’s grief as the Civil War began to take the lives of 620,000 soldiers over what remains the bloodiest four years in U.S. history. 

Upon first seeing his dead son, President Lincoln murmured, “My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!”  Willie was interred in a borrowed crypt at Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown. 

His coffin would accompany the president’s on a funeral train to Springfield, Illinois in 1865.  This is a story of such profound grief that we can still feel the pain and suffering upon hearing it. Lincoln continues to teach us how to cope with tragic loss…not with a stiff upper lip, but with an unashamed embrace.

According to the United Nations World Population Prospects report, approximately 7,452 people die every day in the United States. Annually, some 37,000 people are killed in automobile accidents, another 45,000 commit suicide and 17,250 more are victims of homicide. There is no doubt that each of us will encounter, and deal with death on a fairly regular basis. 

Chaplains & Grief

For Chaplains and First Responders, the chance of frequently facing such tragedy is imminent.  It is so important for all of us to open ourselves to the reality that we will be called upon as intimate comforters for family, friends and others. 

And it all starts with notifying loved ones.  In order to be of any help to those who grieve we must be able to be with them without offering advice. In his book Compassion; A Reflection on the Christian LifeHenri Nouwen called for us to be first and foremost, people of compassion saying;

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

If we are to abandon the stages of denial and impatience in the process of grieving, we must also be able to embrace the darkness of loss.  This is not supposed to be easy.  It requires a listening ear open to suffering with those in pain. It also requires sharing and experiencing personal sadness when grief comes to our own door.

Resource For Chaplains Continuing Education:

The Association for Death Education and Counseling is an organization dedicated to the study of death and dying.  They provide a place for professionals from diverse backgrounds to advance knowledge and promote practical applications to research and theory. Their 41st annual conference will be held in Atlanta this April. Continuing Education Credits are available.  This would be a great opportunity for Chaplains and others. Here is a pdf link to the conference overview. An online webinar, Working with Continuing Bonds in Grief Therapy and Counselling is coming up on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 (12:00-1: 30 pm EDT).

5 Things Lincoln Can Teach Us About Grief

An Inconvenient Truth

“The call to the margins, led by those we find there, is exhilarating and life-giving and renews our nobility and purpose.  For this, we all long. The time is now, as never before, to put terror and defense to one side and find our human connections on the margins.” ~ Gregory Boyle (Founder of Homeboys Industries)

It isn’t more power, more prosperity, more armaments or closed borders we need. None of these things will give us long-term security.  None of these things will keep us safe. We become more vulnerable to destruction from within when we isolate from ‘the other’ in self-woven cocoons.  Instead, we need to reach out for the hand of those on the margins, those who are broken, and those who understand how interdependent we really are. We go to the marginalized not to make a difference but for them to make us different.

Martin Luther King called us to serve “the last, the least, and the lost.” Jesus instructs us to include not exclude as he invites tax collectors and prostitutes to his table.  He tells us “that which you do to the least of my brothers, so you do unto me.”  Buddha dedicated his entire life for the cause of others, for the uplift of humanity at large. He was the first to revolt against the caste system which was firmly rooted in the soil of India. One of the great reforms that the Prophet Muhammad brought was the rights and treatment of the poor. And so we struggle with an inconvenient truth.  We must drop our moral outrage and pick up compassion in its place. When we do that wonderful things will begin to happen in our lives and in our world.

The Healing Heart of Compassion

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“When we experience the healing presence of another person, we can discover our own gifts of healing. Then our wounds allow us to enter into a deep solidarity with our wounded brothers and sisters.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Compassion is the ability to suffer-with those who are wounded. True compassion brings with it the gift of healing only because of the mutual experience of our own wounds, our own suffering, and our own healing. It is a sharing of our own brokenness in solidarity with those who are struggling, grieving and floundering. It is about making ourselves vulnerable in order to provide a source of comfort.

Giving advice is a lot easier than offering compassion. Helping to find solutions for the problems of others requires little effort. It is even easier to find a cure. When the person we are trying to help doesn’t follow our advice or chooses another solution we can shake the dust off, shrug our shoulders and walk away. Our inner voice says; ‘Well, at least I tried!’

Those who offer compassion know how to show up. They do not come with superpowers but with shared brokenness. They show up with an understanding heart free from judgment. They do not hide their scars for they are visible proof that wounds heal. Hand in hand, we shall overcome. Heart to heart, we can save each other…and by so doing will, as Michael Jackson sang, Heal the World. We will be doing God’s work.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ~ Pema Chödrön

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Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast


A Mother’s Love

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Author’s mother and infant sister.

“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.” ~ Mitch Albom

Our mothers give us life. 

Nurtured and developed as one from our conception to birth, we spend the rest of our time separating.  We yearn for her embrace and reject it over and over.  We bless her for her kindness and protection, and then curse her for embarrassing and smothering us.  We run back to her for kisses yet flee her when we are ‘busy’.

There are so many complications in our relationships.  That same giver of life, however, never gives up on us, never grows truly weary of our bothers and always hopes and prays for us.

I have been given the great blessing of witnessing generations of mothers in my family.  My daughters have given birth to my grandsons and granddaughters.

Five years ago my wife and I went to be with my youngest after the birth of her first child, Jack.  The way she looked down at her little guy with that wondrous frown of delight, her tenderness, soothing words, pleasure in her husband, and hourly sacrifices made me remember her mother.  I see her in her Mama’s arms and something inside of me sees my mom and grandmother doing the same things through the ages.

I have experienced the transformation of my daughter-in-law as she moves from work to home summoning effortlessly the energy and happiness of raising and playing with our two granddaughters in Memphis.  Then I remember playing with my own mother and grandmother on the floor as a little one.

My dear wife mothers her children, her grandchildren, her former students and her wayward husband ceaselessly and I am awed. There is never a day that goes by without her compassionate words of encouragement.

I experienced the passing of my sister-in-law a few years ago.  Her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren grieved her loss and celebrated her life together. Her grace remains with each of them as time goes on.

On this Mother’s Day, all of this reminds me that our mothers are truly to be called blessed forever.  The love they give is more than we can ever return. So, today I will pray for all mothers.  I will remember their love that gives us life.



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Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast

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Banner Photo by Randy Rooibaatjie on Unsplash


Justice, Mercy and Compassion

by Robert Kenneth Jones

“Fill the seats of justice
With good men, not so absolute in goodness
As to forget what human frailty is. ~ Thomas Noon Talfourd
How easy it is to judge those who annoy us and those who break the rules!  Of course, this is not some new phenomenon.  Human beings have been doing it since the beginning of time.  But today, we have made the judgment game a sensational and salacious sport.

The 24-hour cable news’ programs are engaged in continual finger pointing and disdain of opposing points of view. They practically seduce us into paying attention and implore us to take sides.  We soon identify ourselves as virtuous and the other as unethical or evil.  We become engrossed when the powerful are mired in scandal and revile the outcast or marginalized who continue to cause trouble.  We become self-appointed judges, juries and executioners. 

“Pray that we might allow God to show us that compassion, mercy and forgiveness are far better than judgment.” ~ Drew Filkins

The people who are suffering and need our compassion and mercy the most too often receive our biased judgment. But who am I, and who are we, to judge? Consider the plight of our own personal brokenness.  

Each of us has made plenty of mistakes.  None of us will escape destructive patterns of behavior which, if scrutinized, could cause us to be condemned in one way or another. If we scorn those who suffer from addiction, ridicule those who have fallen into low places, criticize the homeless, blame the victims, or cast out the mentally ill, what are we doing but selfishly indulging misguided righteousness?

Rather than offering mercy and compassion, we strike a blow of intolerance.  Perhaps it is really the scorned, broken and wounded spirits within us which are crying out for forgiveness.

Banner photo by Phillip LeConte

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast

Mindfulness For Everyday Peace; How meditation, prayer and contemplation are shaping our world

by Robert Kenneth Jones

The practice of Mindfulness is moving the nation along a path to gentle revolution. 

I recently watched the 2017 documentary ‘Mindfulness Goes Mainstream’ from PBS and learned that the transformative influence of mindfulness along with Centering Prayer, yoga and other disciplined practices is spreading throughout our country. This has been brewing for a long time but is now emerging as a proven way for relieving stress, offering tools for pain management and providing techniques for increasing focus while improving productivity.

Mindfulness has been embraced by America’s biggest corporations, the Armed Services, police departments, and our school systems.  Evidence-based studies conclude that it is having a positive effect on personal health. It should be no surprise that these methods once limited to Eastern religions and old hippies are now being embraced by millions of ordinary people who are trying to survive an increasingly complex and hectic world.

So what is mindfulness anyway?

My personal experiences with it have led me to the following explanation; Mindfulness is a psychological state of heightened moment-to-moment awareness through specific practices and disciplines such as meditation and contemplative prayer.  It is about achieving a state of mind that is centered in the present and devoid of judgment (the past) and worry (the future).

Most of us begin to feel like we are spending our whole lives trying to get by. This realization seeps into consciousness somewhere around age 40.  You start to develop uneasiness about the secret desperation that you have been hiding for so long. The things that were so important yesterday seem shallow and meaningless today.  You look fine on the outside but are crumbling on the inside.  You just know there has to be a better way to live more fully. This is when turning to mindfulness is so useful. Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder of Headspace, a digital health platform, describes the transformative power of doing just that by devoting only ten minutes a day simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment.

Mindfulness in the Workplace

Corporations such as General Mills, Aetna, Target and Google are using mindfulness to improve innovative thinking, communication skills and more appropriate reactions to stress.  They have built extensive programs to foster mindful practices among employees and have seen benefits and improvements in employee health, productivity and job satisfaction. Leadership courses have been developed which use mindfulness as the touchstone of success.

Mindfulness in the Military

The United States Marines are embracing mindfulness and report remarkable results. Marines who took an eight-week course in the basics of mindfulness recovered from stress faster following an intense training session that replicated battlefield conditions. Four platoons underwent the standard training regimen to prepare for combat. Members of the other four additionally received eight weeks of mindfulness-based mind fitness training. This consisted of 20 hours of classroom time plus homework: Participants were asked to complete “at least 30 minutes of daily mindfulness and self-regulation exercises.”

The Marines were assessed at the beginning and end of the eight-week program, and again a week or so later after they completed a highly stressful, day-long training exercise at a special facility designed to replicate combat conditions. This training required them to respond to an enemy ambush.

Afterward, 54 Marines who had undergone mindfulness training and 53 who did not undergo a series of medical tests. They revealed that the heart and breathing rates of the mindful Marines returned to normal faster than those of the control group members. Brain scans on a subset of 40 Marines also found differences between the two groups. Focusing on several parts of the brain implicated in cognitive control and emotion regulation, the researchers found exposure to emotional faces produced less activation. There is a reason to believe that this method of strengthening mental and emotional resilience will even reduce to incidence of PTSD for veterans.

Mindfulness in the Law Enforcement

Law enforcement officers and first responders have been engaging in mindfulness programs and practices for about ten years.  In a pilot study conducted by Oregon police officer Richard Goerling and Michael Christopher of Pacific University, officers who learned mindfulness skills reported “significant improvement in self-reported mindfulness, resilience, police and perceived stress, burnout, emotional intelligence, difficulties with emotion regulation, mental health, physical health, anger, fatigue, and sleep disturbance.” This echoes some of the research from an earlier study, which found that police officers who went through mindfulness training experienced less depression in their first year of service. This approach is certainly preparing LEO’s and first responders with better ways to handle their emotional stressors in an era where they face increasing violence every day.

Mindfulness in the Classroom

Our public and private schools are using mindfulness practices to help students deal with stress, the threat of gun violence, bullying, and classroom restlessness.  Two different studies were done by Cheryl Desmond, Ph.D., and Laurie Hanich, Ph.D., of middle school children who had taken the “Wellness Works in Schools” mindfulness-based course showed significant gains in self-regulation and executive function.

Discipline problems become teachable moments for kids who have learned how to use mindfulness.  Dennie Doran, head of the Upper School at the Nantucket New School and a teacher there has been at the school for nine years.  She definitely sees a “before” and “after” effect since they began teaching mindfulness. “We have a common language from the 3-year-olds to the 14-year-olds. ‘Was that a mindful decision?’ ‘Did you think about your choice?’ ‘Stop and take a breath.’ So that by the time the lower school gets to the upper school we’re dealing with teachable moments instead of discipline problems. They’re learning self-awareness and then making choices based on that self-awareness.”

Perhaps we are entering a new age in schools not rooted in hardening or softening them but in helping students and teachers to find deeper and more meaningful connections with self and others.

A few of the many benefits of Mindfulness:

Pope Francis relates to mindfulness and Centering Prayer as “serene attentiveness” which approaches life by being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full.  He reminds Christians that “Jesus taught this attitude when he invited us to contemplate the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, or when seeing the rich young man and knowing his restlessness, he looked at him with love.  He was completely present to everyone and to everything, and in this way; he showed us the way to overcome that unhealthy anxiety which makes us superficial, aggressive and compulsive consumers.”

Mindfulness at Home

I have found that mindfulness enables me to experience every moment.  There is an ever-present opportunity to step into a moment and find peace.  I have grown in deeper, loving awareness of the wonders of creation and in my connectedness with other people.  I don’t live in the past or worry about the future (for the most part…I’m working on it). Gradually, I have come to believe in the truth of The Serenity Prayer and that we are all here, on earth, in the peaceful presence of the Creator. Thanks at least in part to mindfulness. So, get quiet, sit up straight, close your eyes…now take a deep breath in and let it out.  There.  You are on your way to practicing mindfulness.

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast