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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Greener

Updated: Apr 13, 2022

“This is the breakout session on grief and loss. If that’s you, you’re in the right place,” the facilitator greeted us. Ten ladies sat in a semi-circle in the small-town church’s library. “How many of you are here because you’re supporting a person grieving?” One hand tentatively rose. “How many of you are here because you’ve experienced a loss?” Every hand went up. The facilitator asked for specifics. Hands raised to signify losses within the last one, two, five, and five-plus years.

My hand was up too. The breakout session at the local one-day women’s conference was the first time I had been in a room with other grievers since my dad’s funeral on December 19, 2021.

I was now “in the club.” The death club, the grief club, where we grab another Kleenex and make mental notes to buy waterproof mascara. A club I never wanted to be in.

Joining the club

I never imagined losing my dad Al, at age 56 years old. Much less from Covid. My husband and I said goodbye to three grandparents in one year. As hard as those losses are, aging grandparents are supposed to die. A healthy man, a business owner, full of life and ready to meet his first grandchild, is not. I do not understand why. All I could say was “I can’t believe it” the entire drive to the hospital, after the doctor called us to come and say our goodbyes on December 11.

Early grief is much more anti-climactic than I expected. Since I live two-and-a-half hours from my parents, current day-to-day life without my dad does not look much different than life with him. I still drive three blocks to my job, my doctor said my lab results look good, I am first in the neighborhood to set out front-porch patio furniture.

Yet, the days seem to get worse. My mom, three siblings, and our spouses miss my dad more every day. Another “first” happens that only reinforces the loss. I fumble through an awkward interaction listening to someone complain about a minor life inconvenience, mentally wincing at the ironic comparison of my pain to theirs. I walk into church sensing the tension of initiating discipleship as a pastor’s wife while feeling that my grief is only getting more complicated, even lonely. The cards stop, the texts become sparse. I’m hyper-aware of the Hallmark platitudes coming my way, but more disappointed when people don’t say anything at all.

My family’s future has completely changed. Everyone else’s world seems to resume as normal. What does grief support after devastating loss look like?

Discovering what grievers need

“What do you need?” is a common question I’ve received. During my dad’s three-week hospital stay and the weeks following his death, there were legitimate family needs I’m so grateful others met. We didn’t cook for a month, so friends dropped off Jimmy Johns and neighbors stocked our freezers with soups and lasagnas. I needed extended time off of work and got it. A relative started a GoFundMe page. My mom’s furnace went out during the coldest weeks in January, and thank God, people stepped up to gather bids and arrange technician appointments.

Now what? What do I need? I’m not sure how to answer that question. Practically, my physical and financial needs are met. I have nothing dramatic to report lately about broken furnaces or cars breaking down or an empty refrigerator.

The support I’m hoping for is not transactional assistance but the kind of deeper, ongoing, simple acknowledgment that my grief is here to stay. Grief is not all of me, but it is part of me now.

“I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am.” -- Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised

Grief is here to stay

Simple object lessons help me see this. A pastor friend personified grief as a new friend I am now getting aquatinted with. C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, compares grief to physical amputation. The impact of my father’s death is not a bout of sickness I have to “get over” or recover from to get back to normal. The loss feels like part of me is gone.

The conference breakout session leader showed the group a visual I found especially helpful. “See this jar? The ball inside represents your grief. You are the jar.” She pulled away a slip of paper to reveal stages of a shrinking ball. “This is what people are expecting to happen to your grief. It shrinks over time.” She revealed a second image, where instead of the grief ball shrinking, it stayed the same, only the jar got bigger. “This is how it really works: you grow around your grief. It becomes part of you.” The entire group nodded in agreement, wiping away tears.

The gestures that have meant the most to me in the last few months have been the ones that enter into this here-to-stay grief. Interactions like, “how was this week for you?” Or, “I was thinking of your dad today,” and “I never got to meet your dad, but tell me about who he was!” Grief this week feels different than last week, and sometimes I don’t know what I’m feeling until I’m given the space to process with someone. When people tell me that they remember my dad, my fear of “will people forget him?” is quelled. A new story reminds me that the impact of my dad’s life is far greater than I imagined.

Though I felt a special connection with the ladies in the breakout session that Saturday, a personal experience of loss is not a prerequisite for supporting someone grieving. The fact that someone hasn’t experienced a similar loss, yet shows interest, means more to me than a fellow griever comparing their loss to mine.

I’ve heard more about other people’s losses than I ever cared to know. But I do care now. There are losses all around me. The “my dad died too” comments confirm that others, like me, have losses that have made a lasting impression, even 20 or 30 years later. While I don’t have the emotional capacity to attend to their sorrow right now, I’m seeing both the universality and deeply personal nature of grief.

Spring and stones

It’s nearly Easter. My dad’s favorite church holiday. His time to unashamedly blast his Olds Opera trumpet during Sunday services and his excuse to go big on the grill for lunch. I can't un-hear my dad belting out verses of "Crown Him With Many Crowns":

"His glories now we sing, who died and rose on high, who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die!"

Good Friday and Easter, death and resurrection. I'm holding more dualities this year than I want to. Celebrating that stone rolled away while we wait for my dad's grave marker placement once the ground thaws.

I welcome little miracles like tulips stretching toward sunshine and trees trying on their new buds. Yet I’m reminded of the miracle I hoped for, what we all hoped for, that my dad would get better and come home. But he didn’t. What I thought would happen well after I had kids someday or see my youngest sister walk down the aisle has already happened. My dad passed through the veil, joining Jesus in his suffering and now life eternal.

I’m still looking for grief support. A GriefShare group close to home, a good-fit therapist. Friends that carry this burden with me. Yet, only God fully knows the depth of my pain, my mom’s pain, my brother who just became a father—his pain.

Today I will re-listen to one of three recovered voicemails from dad and talk to my sisters about my last therapy session. I’ll clean paintbrushes from a recent house project and “brush the bristles till the water is clear” like my dad taught me. I’ll open my Bible, bookmarked by one of my dad’s handwritten notes, and read Colossians 3:3-4: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

“Dad is in Christ now,” I tell my husband. We remind each other that God will give us strength for another day. Through his Spirit, his Word, maybe a new friend.

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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Greener

My dad, Al Manning, passed away on December 11, 2021, after a three-week battle with Covid pneumonia. A GoFundMe was started for my family here and a link to watch the December 19 service is here.

This week I’ve thought back on many small moments special to me & my dad, and am realizing that memory itself has always been this gathering of small, peculiar things. My dad said to me often, “be faithful in the little things.” He usually told me this from his black swivel chair in his upstairs office.

I remember when I was in high school, after some rough patches with my sisters, he would call me up to his office for a talk. He encouraged me to be a kind older sister and leave a legacy of compassion. During college when I lived at home, I’d sit in the red striped living room chair each morning to read my Bible. I’d hear my dad walk into his office to read his Bible, too, or overhear the day’s first SOOP Café phone calls. Fridays were for blasting his trumpet or us almost blowing out his speakers to “Carry on My Wayward Son.” And then I’d grab my keys to head to class, and later to my first real job—he would always race downstairs to catch me for a quick goodbye. On cold winter mornings, I heard him starting my car for me. And any morning was a reason for him to stand on the outside front steps, coffee mug in hand, and wave into the distance until my car rounded 29th Avenue.

I’m realizing that these small moments were my dad’s way of saying he cared so much. He loved making a big deal about small things and creating spaces where I felt safe and known.

One of my favorite moments in my dad’s office was one where I wasn’t actually there. The night Jon & I started officially dating, I asked him how his earlier “talk” went with my dad. He said, “Well, we watched clips of Meet the Parents and he handed me a set of camp paper dolls.” Jon and my dad were instant buddies. That day I knew, in a way, that I wanted Jon to be the one caring for me, like my dad did for so many years. It’s because of my dad that I felt brave enough last year to start freelance grants consulting. I’m going to miss talking to him about house projects, being brave in a new town, and our Pit Boss smoker that he was so proud of.

I’m trying to make sense of a life without my dad. And as a person of faith, finding a spiritual safe place where I can cry with Jesus about how Covid took my dad, and how God, in his compassion, will make all things new. This lyric, from the song “Little Things with Great Love,” has been refuge, it says,

In the kingdom of the heavens, no suff’ring is unknown; each tear that falls is holy, each breaking heart a throne. There is a song of beauty on ev’ry weeping eye — for there is One who loves me: His heart, it breaks with mine.

This with-ness is dear to me. The God my dad believed in, by whom he is finally, fully known, is in this December fog, walking with us into our unknowns where we might feel the small, faithful clarity of his grace.

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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Greener

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

Where do you find grants?

Today I’m highlighting a few tricks in grants research. Why? Because finding best-fit grants can be difficult, even expensive.

The good news is that finding them can also be easy and free. No, you don’t need to pay for a database subscription. Maybe later. For now, make sure you’ve tapped into these resources, which, might lead you to results even better than grant dollars.

A surprise scenic view at George C. Manitou State Park, Minnesota. Always on the lookout for beauty, for metaphor.

1. Know what’s across the street.

Sometimes in our noble efforts to secure the perfect grant from impressive grantmakers, we fail to see basic funder relationships right across the street. How well do you know the community giving guidelines of nearby businesses? How well do they know your organization?

Most corporations have a philanthropic arm. Think: US Bank, Family Dollar, your local drug store, State Farm, your town’s car dealership, Walmart, the local electric company. Heck, use Google Maps to start listing businesses in proximity to your nonprofit. Get familiar with their giving priorities. Scour their websites for pages that sound like “Community Giving” or “Our Impact.”

You’ll find grant opportunities, scholarship programs, donation request forms, employee volunteerism, or in-kind gifts. Follow-up your research with a real live handshake with a business representative. Local management can clarify for you what they actually do. Maybe their giving program has been rather inactive. Maybe they just signed the final check for this grant cycle. Or, maybe they’ve never heard of your nonprofit… Yikes. Let this be the first step in a mutually-beneficial partnership.

2. Look to nonprofits doing similar work.

Who are the nonprofits that are doing similar work to yours? Who funds them? If they’ve received a grant, it is likely that they’ve had the runaround doing research, just like you. Look over their annual reports, pay attention to who sponsored their latest event, and review past announcements of grant-funded projects. There’s a good chance that their funders have giving priorities aligned with your nonprofit’s mission. Take note.

The bigger picture: if you don’t already have a relationship with nonprofits doing similar work to yours, at best, you’re missing out. At worst, your isolation from other agencies is damaging your likelihood of not only getting a grant, but also truly achieving the long-term impact you want to see.

Partner agencies are not your competitors. They’re on your team. They need your expertise, you need theirs. Consider how you can take the next step in working together: shared data tracking, improved referral workflows, collaboration in evaluation strategies. Joining forces nurtures a trusting relationship, establishes yourself in the community, and may even pave the way for a collaborative grants project for which you would otherwise be ineligible. Check out the Collective Impact Forum for more ideas.

3. Head directly to 990s.

An IRS Form 990 (or a 990-PF or 990-N) is an annual tax form required to be filed by most tax-exempt organizations. While they look intimidating, you don’t have to be a tax expert to navigate them. The form gives an overview of a public charity’s or private foundation’s contact information, governance, and detailed financial information—including a list of grant awards. “Isn’t this information on a funder’s website?” Sometimes. Depends on the funder. If you want to streamline who to contact (or whether you might already have a connection) and whether your organization aligns with their priorities, look at what’s implied in a 990.

Where to find these? Every tax-exempt organization’s Employer Identification Number (EIN) is public information. If it’s not listed on their website, do a Google Search. Then, plug that number into the search field on the platform. There are databases out there to help you filter through 990s, but many have limited access. If you’re comfortable scouring the forms yourself, head directly to the IRS platform.

4. Befriend your local librarian.

You realize that libraries are usually part of a larger system with access to all kinds of databases? Make the most of these. Most libraries have subscriptions to research databases for on-site use. Ancestry research, peer-reviewed journals, encyclopedias, searchable archives, and… foundation databases. Ding ding ding.

If you’re in a small town, there’s a good chance your local library staff have well-established connections with local nonprofits and funders. The success of a rural library has much more to do with its connectedness to community needs than the circulation of books. Library staff can point you to valuable resources and meaningful community connections. Plus, it feels pretty amazing when the librarian knows your name and begins checking out books to your account faster than you can pull out your keychain library card. If you’re not a patron of your local library, become one!

If, after all this, you can justify the cost of a using a paid database, check these out. Many have free-trial options, or some are included/discounted with a subscription to a professional network (such as the Grant Professionals Association or Minnesota Council of Nonprofits).

Don’t have time? Does doing research make your head spin? You’re not alone.

Let’s talk. I help nonprofit folks by doing the research dirty work for them, plus guidance in practical next steps.

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