Archive for December, 2012

The Treasure of a Mustard Seed

December 18, 2012

A Timely Tale of Beginning the Journey Through Grief


The story is told of a woman whose child had died. Her grief was strong and would not let up. It felt unbearable.

She went to the wise old man in the village and asked, “How can I come to bear this? How can I be healed?”

“It’s really rather simple,” the old man replied. “All you have to do is find a mustard seed and bring it back to me.”

“One tiny mustard seed?” she asked. “Something with no real value? That’s all I need?”

He said, “Yes, that’s all. Now here’s what you do: go to your neighbor’s house, explain your situation, and tell them I’ve sent you to collect a mustard seed from them if they have never known grief. If you cannot get the mustard seed there, then move on to the next place until you come to the first house where someone can put in your hand what you seek.

Today there is a sense in which we are like the woman seeking that mustard seed. The tragedy of what happened that Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut leaves us grieving. It is a grief that does not go easily away.

For some the grief seems unendurable—those parents and siblings, those spouses and children, those grandparents and other relatives of the ones who died. Grief strikes many others too—the neighbors, the close friends, indeed, everyone in the community. In varying degrees the grief spreads across that whole state, the entire nation, and into other spots around the world.

“How can we bear this?” we ask. “How can we begin to heal?”

The grieving woman went from house to house to house and each time she came away empty-handed. Each time she found that others either were in grief or had known grief. And most times something else happened: after the woman received the response to her question, she became the recipient of their questions, their interest, their concern. “What happened? What’s happening now? What’s going on inside?” Sometimes these others shared a bit of their own experience in return, their own perspective.

Eventually the grieving woman returned to the wise man and said, “I don’t have that mustard seed.”

He said, “I know.” And he said it with an understanding smile as he looked into her eyes, for standing before him was a woman who had begun her journey toward being able to endure what had seemed unendurable. She had started on her way toward healing.

Today all of us are a part of this story. Some of us identify closely with the bereft woman. Grief settles over us, whether it relates to death in Newtown or in our own town, to death that happened days ago or death that occurred years ago.

Others of us are like the people in the houses the grieving woman visited. We’ve known death but our grief isn’t quite as fresh nor nearly as heavy.

All of us are connected. All of us are, in some way, at some time, shaken by loss and touched by grief. And right now what happened in an idyllic town in Connecticut touches us all.

How can we bear this? How can we be healed?

We cannot ignore the tragedy and the urgency of this critical event. We must look honestly at who we are as an American culture today—at what we accept and what we expect, at what we stand for and what we hope for. We must look carefully at how we deal with mental illness, at the popularity of violence-prone entertainment, and at the increasing proliferation of guns, including assault weapons.

These are huge tasks. They will take years to be addressed. Yet without letting up on our commitment to make far-reaching changes, we must also ask, “What can we do immediately in the face of our grief?”

I believe there are many things we can do. We can visit in the homes of our neighbors, our friends, our families and we can talk to one another. We can speak with each other in those places where we work, where we play, where we worship. We can ask our questions and listen carefully to one another’s answers in beauty salons and barber shops, in coffeehouses and restaurants, on street corners and sidewalks everywhere.

I believe we can seek out the wise people who are among us and listen carefully to what they say. We can voice any questions we may have, including the very difficult ones, even if we’re somehow aware that our questions may be without answers. We can tell our story every chance we get, if that’s what feels right. We can take to heart what others around us have learned and will freely share. We can let ourselves be cared for, if caring is what we need. We can let ourselves simply be, wherever we are, trusting that the time will come when we’re to move on.

For those who have the energy and the compassion to put grief in perspective, I believe we can reach out, gently and yet firmly. We can stay with others in the pain of their grief and not hide from it. We can listen, time and again, with our eyes as well as our ears, with our souls as well as our hearts. We can do whatever we can to place ourselves in the other’s shoes—indeed, in theirs hearts and souls—so we can know their reality as surely as we can. We can stand in the truth and the genuineness of our own lives too, for that is what provides a sense of security when times seem insecure. We can continue to believe, not blithely but maturely.

I believe that together we can experience that healing is possible. It begins within us, and continues between us, and includes a source beyond us. And then our grief will not limit us but help transform us—as individuals, as families, as communities, and as a world.

You’re invited to view a short Willowgreen video related to this understanding of grief by clicking on the image above.

National Conference Welcomes Willowgreen’s Unique Products

December 12, 2012

There are many avenues that may have brought you to be familiar with the Willowgreen family of grief support and healing products. To see many of our customers and to make new friends, Willowgreen put on a popular display at the National Funeral Directors Association convention in Charlotte, NC in October and debuted three new products.

NFDA, which offers access to the largest network of funeral service experts in the world, was strengthened by the presence of nearly 6,000 funeral professionals from 43 countries  who were eager to learn from and share ideas with their colleagues from around the world. This was a perfect opportunity for Willowgreen to show our new products as well as promoting existing ones.

100 Healing Messages

This fall we debuted “100 Healing Messages for Your Grief,” which you can read about in an accompanying article. The email-based, thrice weekly support is ideally suited to an individual facing grief as well as for use by funeral homes.

“Having used your resources for years,” said the owner of an Indiana funeral home, “I’m wondering if you have some short Willowgreen videos on grief that we can put on our website to help both our families and others in our community.”  We also created a new concept in video support based on those expressed needs.

The Healing Promise of Grief

A 12-video, web-based resource for the bereaved called “The Healing Promise of Grief” was introduced. Each two- to three-minute video uses nature photography, music, and narration to provide information and encouragement about one aspect of grief.

Video Comforts

The third new product, Video Comforts, create a calming, healing atmosphere that supports families and visitors as they are visiting a funeral home. All three products are beautifully and tastefully done using nature photography, meaningful quotations and lovely original music.

NFDA Tradeshow

Audiovisuals were the dominant focus of our exhibit this year. One iMac displayed our web-based work while a second iMac showed the email-based video messages. A Blu-ray setup demonstrated four new high definition programs for use with groups of people. The theme of our booth, “Compassion never changes but ways to offer it have,” enabled us to reach out to potentially thousands of people who have not had the opportunity to see the quality, comforting products Willowgreen offers.

Photography: A Key Element in the Willowgreen Message

December 12, 2012

by: Cat Voors, Business Administrator

interview_1Regardless of the extent of your knowledge of Willowgreen products, you have probably seen some of the extensive photographic library created by Willowgreen President and Owner James Miller. The following is a brief discussion with him as a photographer.

C:  Beautiful nature photography is such a strong element of nearly everything that Willowgreen does. When did you become a photographer?

J:  I had a Brownie Hawkeye as a boy and a Kodak Instamatic as a young man, but I didn’t become serious about photography until I was 30.

C:  How did that happen?

J:  There was an avid amateur photographer in the congregation where I was minister. He kept telling me that I should buy a good camera because he thought I had an eye for photography but I couldn’t begin to afford one. Realizing that, he and his wife gave me a new Nikon camera as a surprise birthday present.

C:  That was very generous of them.

J:  Yes, indeed, though I learned afterward that they subsequently took that same amount of money out of their church pledge over a three year period.

C:  Did you undertake formal photography study right away?

J:  Remember: I’m a man and men don’t ask directions. I learned to photograph by reading on my own, by asking questions, and by watching how my friend photographed. Mostly I exposed a lot of film, and in doing so, I made a huge number of mistakes. Then I tried my best not to make those mistakes a second time.

C:  So many of your images are from nature. Why nature?

J:  I know of no more beautiful subject. Or more diverse. I also love just being out in nature, especially in early mornings and late evenings. Sometimes my camera around my neck is simply my excuse to explore the natural world, whether or not I make any images.

C:  So you use nature photography in your videos, books, and presentations because it’s pretty?

J:  Not really. I use images from nature because they’re interesting and informative, life-giving and life-enhancing. I also use such images because they’re undated—they never go out of style. A photo I made of a maple leaf forty years ago looks not a day older than a maple leaf that poses for my camera today. That helps my books and videos have a longer life visually.

C:  Are there any other reasons you concentrate on nature photography?

J: This is the real one: I like the way it’s possible to create images that hint at certain human emotions—joy or sorrow or love, for example—or certain human experiences—being in silence or going on a journey, for example—without making the subject so obvious by showing someone in tears or two people hugging, for instance. Such nature photography gives the viewer room to bring his or her own feelings and thoughts into the images. This is especially the case if there is accompanying music.

C:  How many images have you made through the years?

J:  I’ve never stopped to count. Hundreds of thousands easily. I can tell you that I commonly throw away five or ten for every one I keep. Today I have well over 100,000 photos on file.

C: How do you file so many images so you can find them readily?

J:  All my older images are slides and they’re filed in specially constructed metal cabinets with panels that pull out for easy viewing. You can see 100 slides at a time. When I went digital in 2002, I created a second complimentary system for digital images on a dedicated computer in my small studio.

C: What type camera do you use?

J:  I carry two identical DSLRs (digital single lens relexes) and a variety of interchangeable lenses. Which brand? I always say that any brand is good as long as it’s Nikon.

C:  How do you decide which images go with which words in your work?

J: There are several rules of thumb that I have developed through the years. This topic is complex enough that it needs its own separate interview.

C:  What are the responses to your photography that gratify you the most?

J:  I don’t expect people to rave about the beauty of what I’ve created. In fact, I think it’s easy for the viewer to be taken by the beauty and to miss the message. I like it when someone says, “I lost myself in that one particular image.” Or, “That succession of images led me deeper into myself—deeper into my feelings, or my memories, or my reflections.” I always feel I’ve done my job well when someone says, “Every time I watch that video I see something I haven’t seen before.”

C:  What is the single most memorable response you’ve ever known?

J:  I was leading an all-day workshop in Dayton, Ohio when a man came up to me during one of the breaks. He named one of my early videos and said he had watched it daily for many months after experiencing a traumatic loss in his life. Then he said to me, “Your photography and your narration saved my life. Without them I could not have gone on. I mean that literally.” Hearing his words and looking into his face as he spoke was both a very humbling and very gratifying experience.

C:  You’re a fortunate man.

J:  Without a doubt I am blessed to have found this sort of work to do—work for which I have had almost no training. I believe there is a deep sense in which I did not find this work but rather it found me.