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Changing Your Relationship with Grief

 There are things in life that you get over. For example, a cold, a lost job or an argument with a friend or sibling. Often, when these things happen, they cause temporary sadness and then you let them go.

 There are things we can and should leave in the past for the benefit of everyone. Imagine how much pain and negativity we’d all carry around if we couldn’t forget and move on.

 I’m not saying that it’s possible to get over everything. There are times when doing that just isn’t possible. There are times when ‘getting over’ something is not what you would ever want to do. Like getting over or forgetting a loved one who has died. The only people who believe this is possible are those who have never lost a piece of their heart.

 Many people mistakenly think that grief is something that can and should end at some point. Not true!

 The reality of grief is that it often stays with you until the day “you” die. But, if you do the “grief work”, and change your relationship with grief, you will eventually notice yourself healing. You can do this by changing how you respond to grief and how you learn to cope with it. You will find hope and healing by doing this. If you really think about it, grief is one instance where there is a strong benefit to accepting its ongoing presence in your life. It creates an ongoing connection with the person who died.

I know this is true because I did it. I know it’s hard to believe if you haven’t done it. Because all our relationships are unique, so is our grief. My grief is unique to me. Your grief is unique to you.

I changed my relationship with grief. It no longer controls me. I’m no longer afraid of it. It’s not a place I chose to stay in. Grief will be with me until I die, but so will joy.

Nobody Understands

 Are you finding it hard getting any kind of understanding from friends and family? Have some of them stopped contacting you entirely? What about the other people that seem to be well meaning, but you feel like they just don’t understand what you’re going through? Are some people even judgmental and tell you how to grieve, or that you should be over it after a certain period of time? 

I suspect that you probably answered ‘YES” to at least one of these questions, or know at least one person that came to mind. These are the people that don’t like who you have become or they just find it difficult to be around you. Maybe they are just afraid to bring up the subject of your person that died because they’re afraid of upsetting you. 

It’s not really their fault. In our society, death is always swept under the carpet and feared. Nobody wants to die, and they certainly don’t want to think about it. If it happened to you, it might just happen to them, so they run and hide. Unfortunately, what this does is make you feel even more lonely and isolated.

When you lose a loved one, people might feel bad for you, but have no idea what to do or say. For that reason, they may try to ‘fix’ the problem with comments that you really don’t want to hear. They say stupid things like, “Everything happens for a reason.”, “Think positive.”, “Let go.”, “Move on.” “Don’t cry.” The list goes on and on. 

Sometimes they just avoid you because they’re afraid of talking to you about your loss, because it might make you get upset, cry, or they just don’t know what to say. 

Then after some time, (usually far from enough), they will expect you to have gotten over your loss and for everything to be back to normal. 

All this can make you feel isolated and misunderstood. You might feel angry with your loved ones and friends.  

So why are they so bad at understanding you? It’s because they may never have experienced the loss of a loved one, they don’t know what to expect and are probably afraid of death, and anything related to it. 

Grieving is exhausting. Not only are you dealing with all these crazy emotions, but now you have to work at teaching your friends and family how to talk to you, and what you need. This is the only way to help them understand the new “grieving” you. 

This might include letting them know that you would appreciate them talking about your lost loved one, and that even if it makes you cry, that’s okay. You might want to sit them down and explain how you are feeling and what they can do to help. Most of them have probably never helped anyone through grief and they don’t know what you need or what to say. So sad as it may be to have to do it, you have to let them know. 

You could even write a note or email to friends and family to let them know whether or not you would like to be contacted and what they could do to help. Most would find it a relief to be given some sort of guidance. 

It can be difficult to find people that you feel safe to share your feelings without fear of judgement. Sometimes all you need is someone just to sit with you in silence, or just to listen. (This can even be a pet. I talk to my dog. She listens, loves me unconditionally, and never says anything stupid.) 

Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Don’t be upset if they haven’t contacted you. They probably just don’t know what to say. 

I facilitate grief support groups, and they are the best place to feel like you “fit in”, and everyone understands you. If you can’t find the support you need, it’s also no shame to reach out for professional help. Finding a good grief counselor is not always easy, but it can be well worth the effort.  

Stay connected, even if it’s online. There are so many people that are grieving the loss of a loved one. They understand you, and they care. You are not alone. The road of grief is full of survivors walking each other home. 

Is Being Happy Really the Goal?

“I just want to be happy…”

How many times have we said this in life? Before loss, when someone asks what we want, or how we picture our future as it lays out in front of us, how many of us have said, “I just want to be happy”. What’s strange is that in some ways it’s such a big request, and yet in the simpler times it doesn’t feel like we’re asking for much at all. It’s not like we’re expecting to be ecstatically happy each and every day, just a consistent and stable amount of contentment. That’s all…

And then someone we love dies.

Suddenly, being happy, being content, or even feeling “just” a quiet sense of peace seems to be completely out of reach and not attainable at all. Yet, it’s what many friends and family will say to the griever: “I just want you to be happy again”.

As well-intentioned as this simple statement is, I think it can leave us with two very distinct feelings.

#1 – “Yeah, I’d like to be happy again.”

AND

#2 – “I can’t imagine ever being happy again.”

It speaks to a bigger issue and somewhere along the way I think we may all be missing the mark. As a griever looks ahead, and takes the steps to move forward, don’t we need to stop and think about whether being happy should really be the goal at all?

I read something recently that said, “Happiness is just one emotion”. It was talking about the search for happiness that so many people are on, and it pointed out that if “all” we’re asking for is to be happy, then every single one of us is setting ourselves up for failure.

Happiness is just one emotion. There’s anger and sadness, interest and joy. Apprehension and trust, searching and fulfillment. There’s contempt, remorse, annoyance and fear. There’s optimism, awe, love and admiration. And a life truly lived is one where we get to experience the highs and the lows, the sweet and the bittersweet.

Throughout any part of the timeline, happiness in grief can feel like an ill-fitting suit. It may be what friends and family think you want and what you need. It could even be what you think you want and need.

But perhaps a shift in perspective is what’s needed instead, along with the recognition that some part of us always will not only mourn -but will WANT to mourn a great love lost.

This pain is YOURS. This pain and this sadness, and this feeling that is so far from happiness at this moment is so closely connected to a deep and undying love. This ache that weighs heavy in your head, your belly and your heart…this is what love feels like.

I know many a griever who, after a few months or years past their loss, start to feel “happy” again. Even just for a day. An afternoon of fun, or after a nice night out. And then? The guilt that comes with that happiness. The ill-fitting suit of it, the way that type of happiness just does not feel right anymore.

Being happy can feel like forgetting- and that’s the last thing any griever could ever want.

So should a griever be seeking happiness in the form they knew it before, or is there something else to be striving for instead?

Start small by thinking of pleasant feelings that, for the most part, can be easily attained. The aroma and warmth of a good cup of coffee. The coziness of getting into pajamas at the end of a long day. The contentment of a satisfied stomach after a good meal. The beauty of nature, and fresh air wherever you are, at any time of the year.

And then build from there. Find moments that are the right kind of quiet-where silence brings peace instead of longing. Look for moments of goodness, in friends, family, and strangers.

Find balance and know that we can be filled with both pain and purpose. That we have room for the good and the bad, and we don’t need to set goals that we’ll never be able to reach.

When calm, peace, or joy touches you, even for a moment- celebrate it. Let go of the guilt. Recognize the ability of love and loss to co-exist, and that a life lived without a loved one in it will forever be a jumble of feelings…and not just one emotion.

It’s All About “ME”

If you have read my book; “Surviving – Finding Your Way from Grief to Healing”, you most likely know all about me. If not, then let me tell you who I am, why I’m here and what I know…..

I was in finance for 30 years. I was an Assistant Vice President of a major financial institution. I had a beautiful home, a husband I loved more than anyone in the world, and a very happy life. I had it all! Then, on January 24th, 2014, that was all taken away when my husband Rob died of cancer.

Now I’m an Author, Speaker and Grief Specialist. I have two books, this website and a Facebook page called, “Surviving Grief” that currently has over 1200 followers. This new “career” was not one I wanted, it was one that was thrust upon me.

The reason I’m here is that it became important to me to help other people navigate the rough seas of grief. What I know about grief is not something I learned solely from books, it comes from first hand experience.

So here’s what I know…..The first year after my husband Rob died was the hardest. I knew it was going to be because everyone around me who had lost someone they love told me this would be the case. What they didn’t tell me was the second year would be hard too, and the third, and the fourth, and every year to follow.

But that first year was full of so much heartache and so many adjustments. Not just the adjustment of my Rob no longer being with me, but the day to day changes that I underestimated. They seem small but end up feeling enormous– like picking up your phone to call or text and realizing you can’t do that anymore. Or getting exciting news and wanting to share it with that person, only to feel a punch in the gut when the reality of your new life hits you all over again. Or having an awful day and missing the person who could best put your troubles into perspective. These were the things I didn’t anticipate. The little things that add up to those waves of grief.

One of the things that helped me greatly in the first year was joining a grief support group for people that lost a partner or spouse. I found great comfort in sitting in a room full of people that “get it”. I also did one-on-one grief therapy with a counselor. Sharing my feeling with her helped me to understand my grief and all the emotions attached to it.

I saw that one-year anniversary on the calendar as a milestone. I would get to that day, a whole trip around the sun without my Rob, and it would be an accomplishment. I felt like the kid in the backseat asking “Are we there yet?” I was just so ready to feel differently than I did.

And then the day came. And you know what? Nothing felt any different. I’m not sure what I thought would happen– they don’t exactly give you an award when you make it through. No pat on the back, and no tangible relief. Kind of a rip-off, right? Because that was HARD work, and a long road.

So I took the really bad thing that happened to me and I turned it into something good. When Rob died I knew nothing about grief, but on January 24th, 2014, I became an expert.

I’m now seven years into this journey, and believe it or not, even with all I know, it’s still hard work. Not in the same way it was in the beginning, but definitely different. There’s a part of me that feels like I’m supposed to be back to normal. But I’m not. Because things keep changing. New challenges come along that make my Rob’s death more real, and make it almost feel new again. There are new “normals” all the time. Grief is ongoing.

I literally avoided someone in the post office the other day that I haven’t seen in many years. I would have loved to see her and catch up. But she was an old family friend, she didn’t even know Rob died, and I couldn’t bear hearing the well-intended “I’m so sorry about Rob” comment. I pictured myself sobbing in front of the outgoing mail slot, getting funny looks and making this person wish she’d just stayed home today.

I read something early on that said after about 18 months, many people can and do feel back to normal. If you find this same timeline take my advice — keep scrolling. It doesn’t work that way. I was ready to throw a party and circle that date for myself on a calendar. But I found a whole lot more information that said there is no timeline. It only set me up for disappointment to think this whole road was a linear one. It is as winding as it gets.

I think I just got somewhat quieter about my pain after a while. Because it feels like I should, or because it feels easier to pull off of this road for a while and take a break. I get it. I may help other people, but I’m still grieving. I’m still trying to figure out where that grief fits in my life after the initial shock wore off and all this time has passed.

Here’s the thing…..I used to think I needed to be in pain to remember Rob and to truly mourn him. Now I know better. That’s just not how it works. I can miss him without hurting so much over it. And while the crushing moments are fewer and farther between, the dull pain persists.

I’ve heard grief described as “a heavy coat that you can’t take off.” But after a few years went by I was ready to take it off. The problem is it still sits in the back of my closet, and there are still days I see it, and it never let’s me forget.

I have gotten to a better destination at the end of my grief. But I suppose there really is no end. It’s just a part of the fabric of my life now.

Why Do I Feel So Alone In My Grief?

In a lot of social conversations happening right now, people are frequently using the word isolated. They are saying they feel more isolated than ever before. As I listen, I empathize. I feel into it. I put myself more into their shoes. And there are many times when I do that, I feel incredibly sad. However, if I name the sadness I feel, I notice the conversation begins to shift.

I find that when a feeling is named or owned, it provides a safe space for others to speak to something deeper inside them. They open up to their feelings more, naming their own experience once they know it’s safe to, and that they will be supported rather than criticized or condoned.

I’m finding more people speak to their loneliness instead of isolation. They mention how things are so quiet in their homes, or when they talk to loved ones, it feels as if no one is listening. They long for a sense of closeness- something that is provided only by a special someone who completely understands them.

I often wish their situations were different and that their loneliness was replaced with joy and connection but, their circumstances are beyond my control, I let those thoughts pass so I can be more present to the person in pain and more present to the moment. What sometimes feels like I am not doing enough surprisingly gets reflected to me as tremendous support and people feeling safe enough to be their authentic selves. It arises a sense of bewilderment every time this happens, but it also warms my heart and I feel truly honored to support someone in a space of deeper emotional sharing.

But fortunately, there is a way to ease loneliness. Having healthy social connections and feeling cared about helps. It reduces lonely feelings and helps us feel more seen, heard, known, and understood.

I think that’s where loneliness is a bit more challenging to people in grief. Losing a loved one can make a person feel very lonely. The sense of closeness is instantly taken away. Suddenly, there is a void- that came about way too fast- and it makes absolutely no sense. In trying to understand it all, some of the things family or friends will say or do can feel hurtful despite their best of intentions.

Grief and loneliness create a need for the world to slow down; allowing for empathy, love, and compassion to fill the space and help the Healing process. But the world does not stop for our grieving. Hence, it becomes easier to feel isolated, which further elicits the feeling of loneliness.

In a recent grief support group, someone asked “Is it normal to feel completely alone?” The overwhelming answer was yes from other members. However, as the Facilitator, I did not focus on providing a direct answer. I drew awareness to more of the authenticity and realness of where the question was being asked from. I could tell the participant was speaking from her heart and it felt very empty. As I observed other responses, I took notice of the group collective. Everyone felt deeply alone. Even in times of being surrounded by many people, it is quite common to feel misunderstood and not be seen for what’s really happening to you.

We all have those special people in our lives that help us feel whole or complete. They mean everything to us. When they pass, the longing for them continues. This causes pain. This is also when many of us reach out for professional help or make a lifestyle change. Some people work with a counselor. Some people join a bereavement support group. Some start a new hobby, activity, or project.

These are healthy coping strategies that help us feel more supported. It sometimes fills a void when we need to feel more known, seen, and loved.

Here are some I was offered by a member of one of my support groups…..

#1 Have someone to talk to that has been through the same experience. Not just a friend with a listening ear. It really helps when you feel understood.

#2 Never allow anyone else to run your grief. Do it on your own time and in your own way. Because of that, sometimes you may have to walk away from other people.

#3 Know that you will not always feel the same way. As time goes on, you may still miss your loved one, but the grief changes to make it more manageable.

#4 Be kind to yourself. If there is something you would do as a treat when you are feeling good, do it as a treat when you are feeling sad.

#5 Find an environment with a lot of negative ions. Being outdoors can help you feel less suffocated and like your world is not crushing you. The negative ions help you to feel like there are more possibilities for your future.

If loneliness and grief are causing pain in your life, please trust that there are people and resources available to help support you. A lot of bereavement support groups are now available online. My suggestion is to find one where the group members have experienced a similar loss to yours. For example, a widow support group or loss of a child group.

Also, know that I am here to help. My work is about listening with compassion and empathy. I facilitate online bereavement support groups and I answer all my email.

You are not alone……

Worry & Grief: 5 Steps to Stop the Cycle

First, let’s talk about the why – why we worry and why in grief it may be worse than ever. For some, worry is deeply instilled, even long before the loss. Perhaps it’s nature, perhaps it’s nurture, or maybe it’s the idea that to be a cautious, responsible, and prepared adult, we have to generate some level of worry in our day-to-day lives.  

But worry often becomes worse in grief and in the aftermath of loss absolutely EVERYTHING feels overwhelming. Everything is a decision. Everything feels filled with the potential for something to go wrong. Why?

Because something did go wrong- very wrong.

The worst thing that could have happened has happened and now it’s going to be very hard to have faith or trust that anything could ever go right again. 

It’s important to remember that in grief, we are often mourning our partners and advisors. They were the people who could actually help us with all this stuff, and now we’re not only grieving their loss, we’re having to keep living and doing and deciding without them. 

As a result, we may find that worry robs us of sleep, steals our peace, and forces us out of the present and into a future of uncertainty where we’ll try to fix and know things that can’t yet be fixed or known.

Stopping the cycle of worry begins when we understand what worry is, and what it isn’t, and we need to recognize one very important point…

Worrying and doing are not the same thing.

Worry is not planning. Worry is not being productive. And above all, worry is not problem solving. 

I want you to really begin to think of it in these terms, and most importantly, use the following 5 steps to overcome the bad habit that worrying has become in your life:

BE AN OBSERVER

First recognize that being an observer of your thoughts and behaviors allows you to look on as an outsider would, and to experience without judgment or labels just how much of your life and thoughts are spent in such an unsettled mental and emotional state. Take note: how much time are you spending worrying? What time of day is it happening most? Does it happen when you’re especially drained, or haven’t had enough sleep? Are there people or situations that trigger it or set it off? 

DEFINE IT AND CATEGORIZE IT

Second, ask yourself: is this worry for the sake of worry? Is it something you have control over or not? Are thoughts alone enough to change the course of whatever may or may not happen? Decide what is a worry for the sake of worry and what is something you can actually do something about. Define worries into what you have control over – and exert that control when and where you can. And then learn and practice letting it go when you can’t. 

WRITE IT DOWN & CLOSE IT UP

Keep a notebook with you. Maybe it’s a small one that fits in a purse or pocket during the day. In addition, make sure you have a pen and paper next to you where you sleep. As the thoughts and worries come in – write them down. Here’s what the worry in your head may sound like: “I don’t know what’s happening with the estate. The lawyer said I should have gotten more information by now. I don’t know why I haven’t heard from him yet”. On paper, simply write: “Call Lawyer”. Hopefully that simple act alone can be a start of getting it out of your head where it’s doing nothing but causing you suffering to a place where it can become an actionable plan. 

TAKE ACTION

Turn these thoughts and worries into an action that will clear them from your thoughts. In other words, turn them into something productive, purposeful and meaningful. These are the things you can control. The phone calls you can make. The information you can get. Write them down to get them out of your head and then DO them.

ASK YOURSELF: CAN THIS BE DONE, KNOWN OR DECIDED TODAY?

If not, then it’s no longer today’s problem and therefore no longer today’s worry. Here is an example of a worry I often hear: “Who is going to take care of me when I’m older?”. This is a very legitimate question and one that may need to be addressed at some point. But can that be decided today? Do you have all the information? Is every possible scenario and factor in place for you to decide or act on? If not – then take it off today’s list. Focus on the present, and recognize that grievers have plenty to do and manage right now without having to travel so far into the future to find even more problems to try and solve.

In the end, it’s a shift in mindset and perspective that makes the difference, and a decision that we make to not add more stress or grief to our stress and grief. Get it on paper, make a plan, take action, and break the endless cycle of worry…once and for all.

Coping with Difficult Days

What can we do about such difficult days? Firstly, it is important not to regard them as “set-backs” for as tough as they may be, they are actually an invitation to come to terms with our loss a little more. But when we ask ourselves, as much as I will miss the person, what can I do on that noteworthy day to commemorate their death and celebrate their life. How can I make that day meaningful though difficult? This gives us some measure of control.

So what can we do? May I make several suggestions? Most importantly, I think we need to remember. Grief invites us to remember, not to forget. To try to ignore the occasion, or pretend that it is just like any other day is unnatural, and actually increases the tension. It takes more energy to avoid the situation than it does to confront it.

Observe these holidays and special occasions in ways that are comfortable for you. Feel free to make some changes if they feel comfortable for you. Remember, there is no right or wrong way of handling these times. Once you have decided how to observe the time and what you can handle comfortably, let family and friends know.

Allow yourself to feel and to express your feelings. Those special days often magnify feelings of loss. Share your concerns, apprehensions, and feelings with a friend or in a support group. Recognize that the need for support is often greater during holidays. Try to get enough rest, because those occasions can be emotionally and physically draining.

Acknowledge your loved one’s presence in the family. Consider lighting a memorial candle at the dinner table or in the house to quietly include your loved one. Listen to music especially liked by the deceased or look at photographs or videos if it is not too difficult to do so.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO HAVE FUN. It is natural to feel sadness, of course, but it doesn’t have to be all sorrowful. Laughter and joy are not disrespectful.  Give yourself and your family members permission to celebrate and take pleasure in one another.Can you get together with family and friends and take some time to share special memories or tell stories about the person. What made them special and what you miss about them?Humorous incidents recalled can have a special healing quality to them.

Your loved one died, it is true, but they also LIVED. Make their birthday a celebration of their life. What could you do to honor their life on that day? Make that wedding or other anniversary a time to be thankful for what you had, as well as an opportunity to grieve what you have lost. Take time on that day to remember and be thankful for the person, even though their absence will be keenly felt.

Try to remember the good memories that you shared with the person. You know, a birthday is a celebration of LIFE. So what could you do that would celebrate the person’s life, even as you remember their death. What would you have done if they had still been here … could you do something similar, as if they were saying, make the most of the day.

Be proactive, not reactive. In other words, do something to take charge of the day. See it as another opportunity to grieve, to miss the person, to peel back another layer of sorrow. To pretend that nothing has happened is so unnatural and actually increases the tension.  Do something to remember and to grieve.

Try to balance sorrow for their death with celebration for their life, and it will make those difficult days more meaningful.

Can you be thankful for SOMETHING?  Of course you are sad because someone you care about is absent, and that is natural and it is right.  But can you be thankful for the years you did have and the memories you still share?  I believe we can be thankful for what we HAD as well as grieving what we have lost.  And are there people who WILL be there this year for whom you can be thankful? 

Don’t allow looking back at the past to spoil what you have in the present.  Yes, you miss the person who will not be there, but are there children, relatives and friends you can enjoy today?  It may not cancel out your sadness but it certainly makes it easier.

You only have a one of two choices when it comes to grief at difficult times. Do you let the day control you, or do you control the day?Either we allow the grief to dominate us, or we try to control it. By doing something … anything … to acknowledge our sadness that they are no longer here while at the same time celebrating the fact that they WERE here, will make a difference..

Remember, the choice is that you can shed tears that they have gone, or you can smile because they have lived. Or maybe you can do both at the same time. Be prepared for difficult days, anticipate them and prepare for them, and then do what you can to make it a fitting day to remember.

Grieving the Death of Child

The death and loss of a child is frequently called the ultimate tragedy. Nothing can be more devastating. Along with the usual symptoms and stages of grief, there are many issues that make parental bereavement particularly difficult to resolve. And this grief over the loss of a child can be exacerbated and complicated by feelings of injustice — the understandable feeling that this loss never should have happened. During the early days of grieving, most parents experience excruciating pain, alternating with numbness — a dichotomy that may persist for months or longer. Many parents who have lost their son or daughter report they feel that they can only “exist” and every motion or need beyond that seems nearly impossible. It has been said that coping with the death and loss of a child requires some of the hardest work one will ever have to do.

The relationship between parents and their children is among the most intense in life. Much of parenting centers on providing and doing for children, even after they have grown up and left home. A child’s death robs you of the ability to carry out your parenting role as you have imagined it, as it is “supposed” to be. You may feel an overwhelming sense of failure for no longer being able to care for and protect your child, duties that you expected to fulfill for many years.

It must be remembered that bereaved parents can mourn the death and loss of a child of any age, and that it feels unnatural to outlive a child. It does not make a difference whether your child is three or thirty-three when your son or daughter dies. The emotion is the same. All bereaved parents lose a part of themselves.

The search for meaning in a child’s death is especially important to parents. An understanding of how death fits into the scheme of life is difficult and often unattainable. Faith is a source of comfort for some parents, but others with religious beliefs report feeling betrayed by God. Religious confusion is normal, as is questioning many things that you may have believed to be certain. One father dealing with the death of a child reported that his faith in life, in general, had been shattered. He had long believed that if you lived your life as a good person, striving to make a positive contribution to the world, life would turn out well. The death of his son robbed him of that belief. This reaction isn’t uncommon; losing a child feels like the ultimate violation of the rules of life.

Surviving the death and loss of a child takes dedication to life. As a parent, you gave birth to life as a promise to the future. Now you must make a new commitment to living, as hard or impossible as it may seem right now. You will survive this; however, the experience may change you.

New Year’s Resolutions for Grief

This time of year, we are inundated with suggestions for changes we can make to greatly improve our lives in the new year.

New Year’s resolutions to improve our health and surroundings may be useful and even beneficial. However, if you are among those who have experienced the loss of a loved one during this past year, the typical sentiments may ring hollow for you as the calendar turns. (How can it possibly be so important to eat more broccoli or walk 10,000 steps a day when there is an empty chair at the dinner table and a pair of sneakers by the back door waiting for a loved one who isn’t returning?)

Perhaps it would be fitting to consider a different sort of New Year’s resolution—a set of suggestions suited especially for those who are entering a season of their lives grieving someone whom they loved.

Such a set of resolutions might look like this:

  • I resolve to not place time limits on my grief; it will take as long as it takes.
  • I resolve to acknowledge my grief as my own—that it is as individual as I am—and will take shape in its own unique way.
  • I resolve to be mindful of the need for flexibility when it comes to the expectations of others (and myself).
  • I resolve to not be pressured by “shoulds.”
  • I resolve to cut myself some slack when I am not as productive as I might like, behave in ways uncharacteristic of my usual self or simply “don’t care.”
  • I resolve to accept that others may not understand my pain, and it is probably not realistic to expect that of them. (Until one has walked the path, how can one know the terrain?)
  • I resolve to express my feelings without guilt, and not apologize for tears.
  • I resolve to be grateful for concerned others who willingly just listen.
  • I resolve to recognize that my acceptance of assistance and support of others allows them the blessing of giving.
  • I resolve to forgive those who say or do that which feels hurtful, recognizing that unkindness is not intended.
  • I resolve to extend to myself the same grace and patience I would to others, were they in my situation.
  • I resolve to find some little way each day to begin to reinvest in life, in an effort to move toward hope and a sense of purpose.
  • I resolve to continue to speak my loved one’s name, tell our stories and embrace my memories.

Whether or not you are one to make resolutions, it is our hope that one or more of these thoughts will resonate with you. Turning the page to begin a new year, you can be resolute as you move forward in your season of grief.

What You Should Know About Coping with Grief at Christmas

     If I had to put my Christmas grief into a few crucial words, it would be these. Grieving at Christmas is lonely.

     It’s upsetting. It’s isolating. It’s less about enjoyment and more about survival, pushing steadfastly through the holiday and hoping there isn’t too much painful fallout by the time January rolls around.Those of us who are bereaved at Christmas are sensitive and vulnerable and easy to upset. We’re jealous of those who have a seemingly perfect Christmas with all their loved ones accounted for. We’re always acutely aware that our particular someone is missing – and we’re also desperately hoping we might forget.But after seven years of feeling like this, what I’ve finally come to realize is that Christmas doesn’t have any one set way of being celebrated. 

     (In fact, screw it – you don’t have to celebrate at all if you don’t want to.)

     The following is a collection of my 15 tried and tested tips to make it through a grief-filled Christmas season.

     1. Don’t put any pressure on yourself to ‘cope better’.

     2. Let yourself cry.

     3. Tell your friends you’re not doing well.

     4. Unless you know you’ll find it helpful, avoid social media.

     5. Avoid excessive levels of Christmas festivities in the run-up to the 25th.

     6. Fill up your time with a few events in the diary.

     7. Decide where you’re going to spend Christmas Day.

     8. Expect that you might not be ok – but don’t mire yourself in anticipatory grief either.

     9. Actively ‘remember’ the person who died.

     10. Enjoy the possibility of creating new traditions.

     11. Treat yourself!

     12. If you’re really dreading Christmas Day, do something totally different – like volunteering.

     13. Remember, you don’t have to celebrate Christmas at all.

     14. You have the freedom to choose what Christmas looks like for you.

     15. Don’t be afraid to put yourself first – you’re allowed to be happy, whatever that looks like!

     Ultimately, Christmas is your holiday – and ‘holiday’ really is the operative word. Think of it as little more than taking a break from your normal daily life and routine: if that means spending the day alone in bed, then that’s a perfectly acceptable Christmas. Just make sure that you’re doing what you want to do.

     I have years of grieving Christmases behind me, and my feelings about Christmas are still bittersweet. They probably always will be. But I’ve made my peace with that now, more or less.

     And so will you. I promise.

Tips for Living Alone After Your Spouse Dies

Here are a few quick tips on how to adjust to life alone when your spouse dies:

Declutter your home, clean out the closets, go through the attic and basement. Ask a friend to help you.

Rearrange the furniture in your living room and bedroom. This can be a symbol that everything is different now, and help you adjust.

Lighten up the dark corners and areas; white twinkle lights are a beautiful way to brighten a home.

Avoid watching the news or other programs that distress or depress you.

Pay attention to what drains your energy and brings you down. Do less of that – even if it means spending less time with friends and family members you were once close to.

Find kindred spirits to talk to. You don’t necessarily need to join a grief support group for widows, but it’s important to get the help and hope you need by reaching out to others.

What do you find to be the hardest part of living alone after your spouse’s death? Talk to other widows and widowers about what you’re experiencing.

Maybe you want to talk about your spouse more – or maybe you talk to them all the time! Maybe you sense their presence and don’t really feel like you’re alone.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Was your spouse’s death expected? What are you most surprised by? Are there any benefits to having the house to yourself?

12 Days of Coping (with Grief During the Holidays)

It seems almost impossible that the holidays are here already.
It is a time loved by many, but the holidays can mean a heightened sense of pain, loneliness, fear, anger, and hopelessness for those who are experiencing grief. Everyone celebrates the holidays differently – and some might not celebrate them at all.
The holidays may never be as easy to celebrate after a death loss – but I have put together a few tips to help you cope around the holidays in the hopes of helping you navigate the season with a little more ease.
  1. Acknowledge that the holidays will be different and that they will be tough.
  2. Plan and communicate with the people you spend the holiday with in advance to ensure everyone agrees about traditions and plans.
  3. Remember that the way others will want to spend the holiday may not match how you want to spend the holiday.
  4. Create a new tradition in memory of your loved one.
  5. Don’t be afraid to skip holiday events if you are on holiday overload.
  6. Make a dish that your loved one used to make. Don’t get discouraged if you try to make the dish and you fail.
  7. Skip or minimize gifts. After a death loss, material things can seem less meaningful, and the mall can seem incredibly stressful. Talk as a family and decide whether you truly want to exchange gifts this year.
  8. Volunteer in your loved one’s memory.
  9. Ask for help. If people aren’t offering, ask. Asking can be super-hard if it isn’t your style, but it is essential. Asking others to help with cooking, shopping, or decorating can be a significant relief.
  10. Prioritize and don’t over commit. Holidays tend to be filled with so many parties, dinners, and events. Save your energy for those that are most important. Look at everything you have to do and rank them in order of importance. Plan for the most important and skip the rest. Ignore people who want to tell you what you “should” do for the holiday. 
  11. Listen to yourself, trust yourself, communicate with your family, and do what works for you.
  12. Remember, it is okay to be happy – this doesn’t diminish how much you love and miss the person who isn’t there this holiday. Don’t feel guilty for the joy you do find this holiday season.

Even if you only choose 1 or 2 tips this season, it might have a much more significant impact than you might anticipate. Little steps lead to big progress. Take as many of them as you need.

 

 

How To Get Through Your First Holiday After Losing A Loved One

The holiday season is a wonderful time for surrounding yourself with loved ones while sharing meals and partaking in happy traditions. But if you’ve recently lost someone close, it can also be a time when feelings of grief are intensified.

Spending the first holiday season without a treasured loved one can be complicated and messy ― but it can be done while still enjoying parts of the season. We asked an expert how to manage emotions during what’s otherwise considered “the most wonderful time of the year.” Here are some practical tips for those grieving this holiday season:

1. Share memories with loved ones.

A loved one’s absence becomes more glaring when no one speaks about them. Instead of trying to avoid talking about your deceased loved one, make a point to share memories and stories about them during gatherings of friends and family.

Focus on funny stories and remembering it’s OK to laugh and enjoy those memories with one another. This is a totally normal and healthy way to deal with your sadness.

It is important to talk about the feelings, share stories about the loved one, share memories and recall the loved one’s life in a positive frame that celebrates and honors the person’s life.

2. Blend old traditions with new ones.

Honoring the life of a deceased loved one can mean feeling obligated to continue traditions they passed down to you (like making a specific meal on Christmas, for example). But don’t feel beholden to them if these traditions were never your favorites. Instead, take one or two traditions you treasured and combine them with new ones to help you move on.

Hold the values and traditions that involved the loved one, but also create new experiences that promote healing and movement forward. Engage in a balanced existence of blending the memories with the present and allow for both grief and resolve to co-exist.

3. Cut back on seasonal stressors.

The holidays are full of stressful obligations, like social gatherings, gift giving, cooking and volunteering. Give yourself permission to cut back on your commitments in order to have space to heal.

While withdrawing entirely and “sitting out” the holiday season would not be a healthy option, definitely take breaks and space from any events or obligations that cause you undue stress. People may look forward to your holiday cookies each year or hope you come to the office party, but you should also know that they will understand if you pull back considering your loss.

It’s important to stay in touch with your support system and communicate your plans if you choose to skip any activities or gatherings.

It will be important for others to know how you are feeling and connect with you in a manner that feels right for you. Consider partaking in activities that do not activate discomfort, heighten unnecessary stress or trigger painful emotions that cannot be readily managed.

4. Give mental health support a try.

Seek treatment or support to help you if the grief feels unbearable.

Join online support groups, lectures or faith-community events and seek professional support from a therapist.

Connecting with others who share your experiences can help you avoid isolation, which could increase the risk of depression. Accepting and addressing your loss is an important step in the grieving process. And while the holidays are a busy time, your mental and emotional well-being are too important to neglect.

5. Pay attention to possible unhealthy coping techniques.

The holiday season can intensify feelings of grief and loss, so be aware of your own emotions ― and reactions to them ― during this time.

Exhaustion, loss of appetite and feelings of apathy and hopelessness can be signs that your grief might be putting you at risk for depression. Grief experts warn this could lead to unhealthy behaviors, like excess alcohol consumption, withdrawing from social situations or self harm.

The first holiday without your loved one is difficult. While nothing will ever replace your loss, taking care of yourself, spending time remembering your loved one, and enjoying the traditions of the holiday season can alleviate some of the pain while helping you progress in your grieving.

Understand that grief is a complex multifaceted experience that changes over time and varies from loss to loss. It takes time to adapt to the sudden and profound experience of a loved one’s death. … Grief is the process of adapting to change created by the irrevocable loss of the loved one.

And remember: While your celebrations may never be the same, they can still be joyful as you remember your loved one.

Here Comes Thanksgiving!

     Family gatherings. Fun and smiles all around. Expressions of gratitude everywhere.

     Underneath the warm hugs and smiling faces, many of us carry wounded hearts. We’re thankful to be with those we love, but there’s also an ache inside that won’t go away.

     Many of us are missing someone this year. The holidays can be wonderful. They can also be hard.

     Holidays have an astounding ability to surface our losses. During this season, we’re surrounded by voices of the past – cherished memories that we hold dear. We smile, but perhaps we also want to cry.

     And if we’ve had a loss recently, we’re hyper-aware of who’s missing this year.

     What do we do with that?

     The healthiest option is to be real with yourself about what’s happening inside you. That will mean finding a way to express your heart this Thanksgiving.

     It’s possible to take your own heart seriously – including the pain and grief rattling around in there – and still make this Thanksgiving a good, meaningful holiday.

     Here are three quick tips for navigating Thanksgiving with a wounded heart:

     First, give yourself permission to miss those who are no longer here.

     If the right person is missing, your world can feel empty. Perhaps you’re heartbroken or feel shattered inside. Maybe you’re barely holding it together on the outside.

     Most people steel themselves to put on a good face and just survive. We hide our grief. After all, who wants to be the black cloud of Thanksgiving? So, we wear a mask, say the right things, and participate in all the niceties.

     Inside, however, we’re dying. Our hearts are screaming, buried under an avalanche of what someone decided was appropriate. If we hide long enough, we can forget who we are.

     We are human. We come out of the womb screaming for a relationship. We’re made for connection. We don’t do separation well. When someone we love departs, our heart breaks.

     If you’re missing someone, it’s okay to hurt. Your heart is speaking. Listen to it for a moment. The pain of missing them honors them and your relationship with them. Grief says, “I matter. You matter. We matter.”

     Give yourself permission to grieve, even on Thanksgiving.

     Second, find ways to talk about them.

     People work their way into our hearts. When someone we love departs, they become the proverbial elephant in every room. Their loss follows us everywhere. Their absence permeates everything.

     Your heart needs to express itself. You’re grieving because you dared to love.

     Find ways to talk about the one you’re missing. Speak their name – out loud and often. There is power in a person’s name. Your voice speaking their name is deeply meaningful.

     As the memories come, share some of them. If you’re alone, talk out loud, as if you’re sharing with someone else. Or write it down. If someone is willing to listen, tell some of your loved one’s story – your story of them. You’ll be surprised how healing talking about them can be.

     Some are afraid of sharing. They fear getting emotional. Plus, if others present also know the person (they were a family member, for example), many are terrified of setting off a chain reaction of grief.

     But would that be such a bad thing?

     The grief is already inside you, and it’s looking for a way out. The more you keep it in, the more likely it is to leak out in ways you won’t like. Others have grief inside them too. By being real and authentic, you give them a chance to express their hearts also.

     Be bold. Take courage. Speak their name. Share a memory or story. Honor them by remembering them. You’ll be doing yourself and everyone around you a favor.

     Third, make a simple plan to honor the one you miss.

     Be proactive. Make a plan to honor your loved one this Thanksgiving. Your heart will thank you.

     Here are a few possibilities:

Light a candle in remembrance.
Buy them a card or write them a letter.
Set up an empty chair and tell them what you’re thankful for about them.
Make a donation in their honor.
Serve in a cause that was important to them.
Have a time of sharing memories together with others who knew them.

     Be creative. Do what makes the most sense to you. Keep it simple.

     Grief is an expression of love. Take your heart seriously. This Thanksgiving will be different, but it can still be good.

GRIEF at Halloween..It’s Spooky!

     I’m just going to say it, I don’t like Halloween. Please don’t be mad at me and TP my house or anything. I know many of you love Halloween and I support you in that, but it’s just not for me…not anymore.

     Holidays can be difficult after the death of a loved one.  Though we often think of major holidays as being the most difficult, we shouldn’t underestimate the potential impact of traditions and grief triggers surrounding days like Halloween.

     If Halloween is difficult for you, it’s probably for reasons specific to you and your loved one.  However, I’d like to discuss a few general reasons why Halloween might be tough for some grieving individuals.


You have bittersweet memories of the past:

     Annual events, traditions, and holidays are rife with memories of the past.  This year inevitably reminds you of last year and years before that. You may find yourself reflecting on years when your loved one was alive, years when things seemed happier or simpler, or even years when things were exceedingly difficult.

     After a loss, memories of the past gain new dimensions.  A memory that at one point was remembered as purely happy can take on shades of sadness when it includes a person, place or time that’s gone from our physical reality. So, whether the memory is happy or sad, both can cause you to feel pain.

     Does this mean you should avoid all memories of the past? No, definitely not. You lose far too much when you lock away all your memories, whether they’re happy, sad, or mundane.  Memory can be an immense source of comfort and connection, not just in grief, but in life. Happiness with a side of sadness is just something you must get used to after a loved one dies.


Your loved one was a baby, child, or adolescent when they died:

     If your loved one was a child when they died, then not only might you be struggling with memories and losses related to the past, but you may also be grieving losses related to holidays they won’t get to celebrate and experiences you won’t get to share. For example, you might be consumed with thoughts about how old they would be and who or what they would want to dress up as. 

     Unfortunately, Halloween grief triggers are very difficult to avoid. There are parties at school and work, decorations throughout your neighborhood, entire sections of your grocery store dedicated to candy and costumes, and on Halloween, the trick or treaters are out in full force.  

     If Halloween is proving to be especially difficult for you this year, schedule a little extra self-care time throughout the week.  And if you think it will be too difficult to hand out candy on Halloween night, plan to get out of the house by going to dinner, a movie, or some other non-Halloween related activity.

Some of the symbols are bothering you or are distressing someone in your life:

     Spirits, ghosts, tombstones, skeletons, and other reminders of death are everywhere during October. Adults may simply find it difficult to look at these symbols in the harmless and playful way they once did.  While children, especially those struggling with questions like – “What happens to you after you die?”, “What happens to your body?” “Are ghosts real?” – may find these images downright scary. 

     If you are supporting a young child who is grieving, you may want to check in with them about how they are feeling about Halloween. 

You’re just not that into it:

     Halloween is a playful holiday. Some people really get into it. Maybe you even used to get into it, but this year you’re feeling kind of ‘meh’.  Grief takes a lot out of you and, in such times, you may find you need to conserve your limited amounts of energy and enthusiasm.

So here are the options as I see them……

  •      Participate with simplicity and support: You may not have the option to skip Halloween because you have children in your care, your work requires you to participate, or for some other reason. If this is the case, try to keep things simple. Embrace store-bought costumes or maybe just go as a grieving person, people tend to find that very scary (I wish I were kidding!) And don’t forget to ask for support from family and friends. 
  •      Skip it (if you have the option): Leave the decorations in their boxes and go to a movie on Halloween instead. Take comfort in the thought that maybe next year you’ll feel more up to it (or maybe not, and that’s okay).

Am I Going Crazy?

I’m afraid I have some bad news for you….grief makes you feel like you’re going crazy.

But I also have some good news…..it’s perfectly normal!

It may be different for everyone because we all experience grief in a different way, but on some level, we all struggle to understand ourselves and the world around us after facing a major loss. Whether the loss was sudden or you were able to anticipate it, as soon as you understood and accepted that someone you love was dead or dying you began the horrific journey through grief. There is shock, sadness, loneliness, isolation, forgetfulness, numbness, fatigue, guilt, anger, crying, worry, fear…..oh hell….this could go on forever, but you get the point.

In the first few weeks, you are literally in a total fog. You wake up each morning thinking maybe it was all just a bad dream and you try to get through the day trying to live without your loved one. Just when you think you are moving forward you step right back into thinking about your life before your loved one died. It seems odd that the whole world keeps moving on in a normal fashion when this tragic event has occurred. Life is forever changed for you and everything feels meaningless, gray, and empty.

This is when you really start to feel that your going crazy. Friends and family don’t now what to say anymore. You have to get back to work or school. But you don’t feel the same. You worry that you are talking too much about your loved one and people don’t really want to listen. You question your faith and life’s meaning. You wonder if you should be getting better even though the world is no longer in color. Everything just seems black and white.

But don’t worry. Honestly! You’re not going crazy. You’re grieving. These are all normal feelings. I know because I have experienced my own grief and I know because I’ve heard hundreds of other grievers talk about the same types of experiences. (If you feel like you may be experiencing a psychological disorder like depression, anxiety or PTSD please consult a professional counselor or see your doctor.)

Take comfort in knowing that, at some point, things will get easier. The intense and unrelenting distress of acute grief will be replaced by less frequent moments of sadness, anger, and frustration. You will still have bad days, but you will know things are getting better when those days are outnumbered by good days.

This does not mean that you are “getting over it”, moving on, or forgetting. An important part of healing is discovering the role your loved one will play in your life after their death.

Very slowly things will begin to get brighter again. The colors come back into the world. Your journey through grief has left you weary but much stronger. You know you will never be the same and you begin to accept that you must integrate your loved one and your experiences and continue to live. You will be a little bit tired, a little bit crazy, and a little bit wiser as you move forward, keeping your loved one locked in your heart.

The Missing Puzzle Pieces on Main Street

     I remember a week or so after my loss I had to go back to work. (Yes, in our culture we are typically only given 3 days of bereavement leave for a close family member…. spouse, child, parent, etc.) But that’s a whole other blog!

     I was driving down Main Street in my small town and crying in my car (always one of the best places to do that) when I noticed nothing had changed. People were walking along the sidewalks, shopping, laughing, and holding hands. Couples were strolling along together and mother’s were pushing their babies in their carriages. The kids were playing and the restaurants were full of happy people eating their breakfast.

     How could this be? Didn’t they know that the world had stopped for me? Didn’t they realize this horrible cataclysmic event had occurred? Everything was the same for them, yet everything had changed for me. Nothing was the same. Yet there I was, driving down this familiar street where nothing looked different. I was suddenly living in a world I no longer recognized. It was a world I didn’t fit into anymore. I didn’t belong.

     How would I ever feel a part of this new terrain? How would I ever be able to see the world in the same way I saw it before my loved one died? Was it even possible? This must be how Dorothy felt when her house flew out of Kansas and landed in Oz. But that place was colorful and happy (well, except for the witch). The world for me had become dark and lonely. The world had stopped.

     As time went on each day I drove down Main Street, it began to become more familiar. The only difference was that I had changed. I would never be the same again. It was as if my life was like a beautiful picture puzzle. But then the puzzle fell to the ground and all the pieces scattered in different directions. I had to put all the pieces together again and when I did there was one piece missing. A piece that would be missing forever.

     In time I realized that the world hadn’t stopped. It had just changed for me. The picture puzzle was still beautiful, it just had that missing piece. Just like Main Street that I was so familiar with had a different feel to it. So did the world without my loved one. But the picture was still beautiful and the world was still moving. I just had to find a way to move along with it.

     But now when I look at the missing piece of my picture puzzle of life, I smile, because that missing piece reminds me of the love, happiness, and joy that I was blessed to have and the world keeps moving. I can drive down Main Street and once again feel that I belong. I know in my heart that many of those people I see on Main Street also have a missing puzzle piece. I can’t see it, but its there for them just as it is for me.

     I guess that’s what life is all about. We all are born and we all die. It’s what we do to create the puzzle that matters. It’s the pieces of our life that we gather as we go along that create the final picture. I have learned to cherish the missing pieces as much as those that still exist.

Will I Ever Get Over This?

     I get asked this question pretty much on a daily basis. People I counsel ask me, “How will I ever get over this? I just don’t think I ever will!? How will I know when I “get there?” Am I grieving “normally” or “the right way? Is my grief like that of other survivors? Why does it get better, only to get worse again?“     

     There are so many aspects of grief that are almost universal, but each loss is different just as each person who died and each relationship is different. People differ in their ability to cope due to such factors as other losses they may have experienced, what coping skills they have, and what their attitudes and beliefs about death and loss are. Grief ebbs and flows in both predictable and unpredictable ways. People often get frustrated with me telling them that it truly is possible to go from a place of grief to a place of healing. They say it can’t be done. But I‘m not someone talking about this stuff that hasn’t been through it myself. (If you’ve read my book you know this about me.)

     This ability to move forward, while not letting go of our loved one, but instead incorporating the loss into our life, is called Integrated Grief. What I have learned about this stage of grief is that the survivor who has integrated the loss into their life knows that the grief has not left their life forever. Not only will they never forget the person they have lost, their longing for them will probably be a life-long emotion. However, this survivor can speak freely about their loved one and share memories even though it may bring a tear to their eye. I know this is a fact because I am one of these survivors.

     What I do now is attempt to model hope and healing for those who are new to their losses and show them the way through the wilderness of grief. I know firsthand that they will experience pangs of grief in their lives on special days or when they are reminded of their loved one in the face of a stranger. Though they will always be affected by this loss, they will be able to move forward and live a life with purpose.

     So, although you may not believe it now, or want to hear it, the answer to, “Will I ever get over this?” is “Yes!” If it is something you can’t even imagine, at least hold onto it in the back of your mind. Don’t give up. I promise you one day you will see it’s true.

5 Ways to Cope When a Loved One Dies

     Grief happens to us all. Time is a good healer, but it can help to acknowledge grief and take steps to heal. Here are 5 ideas that might help you cope when someone you love has died:

  1.      Join in rituals.  Memorial services, funerals, and other traditions help people get through the first few days and honor the person who died. Just being in the presence of other people who knew your loved one can be comforting.
  2.      Let your emotions be expressed and released. Don’t stop yourself from having a good cry if you feel one coming on. Don’t worry if listening to particular songs or doing certain things is painful because it brings back memories of the person that you lost. It’s natural to feel this way. After a while, it becomes less painful. Know that you can (and will) feel better over time.
  3.      Talk about it when you can. Some people find it helpful to tell the story of their loss or talk about their feelings. But sometimes a person doesn’t feel like talking about a loss, and that’s OK, too. No one should feel pressured to talk.
    Even if you don’t feel like talking, find ways to express your emotions and thoughts. Start writing in a journal about the memories you have of the person you lost and how you’re feeling since the loss. Or write a song, poem, or tribute about your loved one. You can do this privately or share it with others.
  4.         Preserve memories. Create a memorial or tribute to the person who died by planting a tree or garden, or honor the person in a fitting way, like taking part in a charity run or walk. Make a memory box or folder that has reminders of the person who has died. Include mementos, photos, quotes, or whatever you choose. If you want, write a letter to the person. In it, you might want to include your feelings, things you want to say, or perhaps thank your loved one for being a part of your life.
  5.      Join a support group. If you think you may be interested in going to a grief support group, ask a local hospice, grief counselor, healthcare professional or religious leader how to find one. You don’t have to be alone with your feelings or your pain.

     This may seem like pretty basic advice, but the reality is that when you are grieving anything you can do to alleviate the pain can be very helpful. I call this the “grief work” of bereavement. In order to heal we need to do the work of dealing with our feelings, expressing our emotions and working through the pain. Experiencing the pain of grief is actually part of the healing process. If you can find outlets to release some of the pain you will ultimately  feel better.  None of this is easy, but it keeps you from getting “stuck” in the pain of loss. 

Guilt and Grief

     As an Author, Speaker and Grief Specialist, I often have people say to me, “I wish I could have done something to keep my loved one from leaving me by suicide.” or “I wish I could have done something as a caregiver to keep my loved one alive.” These comments are “guilt” which is common in grief.

     In the situation of suicide we can easily blame ourselves for not seeing the signs or not doing something to prevent what happened. In the case of a dying loved one, in which we are the caregiver, we can get caught up in the thinking that we could have done more or better to prevent the death. There are many more situations where we not only blame ourselves but friends, family and medical professionals for what happened.

     So here’s where forgiveness comes in. We can continue to recycle these thoughts over and over again but to what end? Will it bring our loved one back? By recycling these thoughts we are showing love for our loved one that has gone. But, instead of recycling these same thoughts, we can also ask ourselves this question, “Did I love them the best I could, in the moment, at the time?“ I’m sure you did!

     The reality is that guilt benefits no one. The antidote to guilt is forgiveness. To forgive others is sometimes difficult but to forgive ourselves can sometimes seem impossible. What we need to realize is we had no attachment to outcome. In most cases we really have no control over anything.

     Forgiveness is hard but only when we chose to forgive, not only others, but ourselves, can we truly be free of recycling the thoughts of guilt we take with us as we move forward.To help ourselves to forgive we can talk it out, write it out or act it out. The point is to release it like we were releasing a caged bird. Only then can we be free.

Loneliness

If you’re grieving, you may feel this has become the story of your life. There are aspects of bereavement that make loneliness seem inevitable and unsolvable. Primarily, the fact that what you desire is your loved one, and what you have is an emptiness molded so precisely to your loved one’s likeness that no one else could ever fill it.

People who are grieving are at a disadvantage when it comes to loneliness because the person they long for is forever gone. I’ve come to understand that loneliness after the death of a loved one is many things. Above all else, it’s the ache of having loved someone so much that pieces of you became them, and pieces of them became you. 

When they were taken from this Earth, a piece of you, your heart, and your history went with them, and you were left behind to live a life that feels forever incomplete. Now that your loved one is gone, there are parts of you that no longer make sense; the roles you both filled, the jokes and memories you shared, their part of the routine. 

What do you do with all these things now that your loved one is gone? If the common experience of feeling misunderstood and alienated in grief wasn’t enough, you have now lost one of the few people in this world who really truly “got” you. You feel alone in a world full of people….you feel lonely.

As time goes on the hole in your heart will fill with new love and happiness. Although you will never forget the love you lost you will also carry them forward into your new place of peace. 

Thinking of Those On Mother’s Day That Have Lost Their Mom

       I am fortunate that my mother is still alive. She is in her 80’s and doing well. This is not the case for many of my friends. Being middle-aged, I have attended the funerals of many of my friends and relatives who have lost their mothers. I personally can’t imagine what that feels like, so like everyone else, I just extend my deepest sympathy to them. I never imagined my much younger spouse would die before my own mother.

      Most of us go through life expecting our parents to die before we do. This is the way of nature. We may experience the loss of grandparents when we are children and for some people even their own parents. We know that people grow old and die. We become even more aware of our parents dying if we ourselves are now aging.

      Still, we’re never ready to say goodbye to these people who play such an important role in our lives and our upbringing. Our parents bring us into the world, care for us through our childhood, guide and support us as we grow up, and sometimes even remain the people we turn to as advisors when we’re adults. I sure do!

      Since it is generally assumed, we’ll lose a parent, there is not much information or support for those grieving this loss. We are told that it is the natural course of life and that it’s just the way it is. None of which makes the loss of a parent any less painful or significant. It still hurts.

     If your mother has died, it’s only natural for you to feel deep pain, fear, and overwhelming sadness. You experience this grief and the usual process of having to say goodbye. Grief is how we begin to untangle the emotional bonds formed with someone who was very special to us in so many ways. A person who shaped us into who we are today.

      Adults are often surprised at the emotions which can threaten to overwhelm them following the death of a parent. After all, they reason, it is in the natural order of things that children will one day bury their parents. Why then the pain, the sense of confusion, the feeling of having been abandoned? This may well be because, buried in our subconscious, is the belief that our parents are immortal. They will live forever.

    So on this Mother’s Day I wish all those who are missing their mothers a sense of comfort and peace in knowing that because of them you are here and you carry on their special legacy. Make their life count by being the best example of the life lessons they passed on to you and find comfort in the happy memories they left behind.

I Believe the Second Year is Worse

     I believe normal grief can go on well past that first year. In fact, I believe the second year is often more difficult because the emotions can be as strong as the first year but the bereaved person feels less comfortable in talking about his or her pain and loss. In that second year fewer friends and relatives talk about the loss or allow the bereaved person to do so. In addition, during that second-year bereaved persons perceive the societal message that grief should be finished after 6 to 12 months and respond by keeping their pain more to themselves. Perhaps this is why my first resolution was to feel, “I will grieve as much and for as long as I feel like grieving, and I will not let others put a time table on my grief.”

     The first year I was walking around in a fog of disbelief. My heart could not accept what my mind was telling it. That my loved one was gone. Never coming back. Never to hold me or talk to me again. I would never have those moments of joy and happiness that we spent together. Life as I knew it, and understood it, was over. Little did I know it but that was just a precursor to what was to come.

     The second-year was harder for me because in the first year I was able to say things like, “Last year on this date we were doing this together”. Or, “Last year on this date we were celebrating our anniversary.” But in the second year I was no longer able to associate certain days with certain events. This made the loss seem so much more real and final.

     It was not until after that horrible second year that I was able to accept the reality of what my life had become. It was not a “new normal”, (a phrase I detest), it was a new world. A world without my loved one. A world I had to figure out how to navigate. A world i couldn’t understand.

     There is no set path for grief. Anyone that tells you there is has no idea of the pain of a major loss. All we do is learn to live in a world without our loved one. We learn to live each day with a little less pain and a lot more compassion. We learn to live with a hole in our heart that can never be filled. We learn to go forward because there is no other direction in which to go.

Grieving the Passage of Time

    I’ll be a year older next month. Though I wouldn’t say I look upon the day with dread, I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m never terribly thrilled to mark the passage of time. Especially now since I have lived a year longer than my spouse lived. It always makes me feel like that isn’t fair. That I got more time.

    Whether it’s my dog, my dad, or one of my friends getting a year older – I greet milestones with mixed emotions. Yes, I know good things come with getting older and that the future is filled with possibilities, but ultimately, I’m someone who would maybe like to see what it’s like for time to stand still for a little while.

    I know those of you who have found peace with the passage of time may be thinking I’m being a little shortsighted, but I suspect just as many of you agree. Whenever I do one of my Coping with Grief Workshops and ask people about the losses they grieve, inevitably someone shares something like “the passage of time” or “getting older” or “the feeling that memories of my loved one are fading.”

    Experiencing a sense of loss over the passage of time and, perhaps, getting older is extremely common. Though I can’t present a list of all the reasons why this might be so, I’d like to discuss a few of the more common time-related losses that a person may experience.


1. Deceased Loved Ones Become More Distant.  

    Being that this is a grief website, this is the most logical place to start because many of our readers are grieving the death of someone very important and significant. People who are grieving are especially susceptible to feeling grief over the passage of time because they may grapple with the sense that they put more distance between themselves and their deceased loved one with every year that goes by.

    Not only may it feel disconcerting to think, “It’s been ‘X’ amount of years since my loved one was here on Earth”, one may also struggle with the sense that their memories are fading.  Though some memories seem vivid, others grow hazy, and it becomes more difficult to recall sensory memories like the sound of their loved one’s voice, the smell of their hair, or the feel of their embrace.

2. Our Memories of the Past Become More Distant.

    As noted above, fading memories may feel especially troubling to someone who is grieving because, in many ways, it can feel like this is all a person has.  That said, grief over the loss of memories can impact anyone – grieving or not. We never like to think that our memories of our loved one, or the past, are fading.

3. Time Seems to Fly By.

    Do you ever feel like the older you get, the quicker time seems to pass?  Well, it turns out there are real scientific reasons for that! Though physical time is an objective fact, ‘mind time’ – i.e. your perception of time – is a little more subjective and as you get older, mind time seems to speed up.  So yeah, as we get older, it truly seems like we’re losing time faster.

4. Places Change.

    Some people don’t mind seeing non-human things like places and objects change. I am not one of those people. Not only do I feel that certain places and objects have a spirit all their own, but they are the props and backdrops involved in my most cherished memories.  If you’re like me, you get it. 

5. We Change.

    Aging is a mixed bag.  Many people feel that as they age they become wiser, stronger, less stressed (at a certain age), better at recognizing what matters, better at managing emotions, and so on.  In fact, many say that their happiness has increased as they have grown older.  

    At the same time, aging brings many physical and cognitive changes that may cause a person to mourn for a time when they felt more healthy, independent, and indestructible. Again, a person doesn’t have to feel entirely one way or the other.  It is possible to appreciate the growth you’ve experienced with age, while also wishing you could scan a restaurant menu without your cheaters.

6. Other people change.

    Though you may feel the changes in your own reflection are gradual, the changes you observe in others can sometimes seem rapid. Kids grow into adults and parents grow elderly in a blink of an eye. People get sick, people get born, people die, and our friends come and they go. Such changes can cause a person to experience losses related to death, distance, and estrangement.

    So my birthday is next month and I will face it with courage. I’ll do what I do every year, hold my breath and wait until it passes!


Where Have All My Friends Gone?

    I am a widower. I suffered a tragic loss and my life changed forever. I went from married to widowed in the blink of an eye. I became a ‘widower.” I joined a group that no one wants to belong to. I became a statistic that no one wants to be a part of. I lost a huge part of my identity and struggled to face each day. I lost friends that I assumed would be there to help me as I struggled to regain my life.

    Friendships, I learned, are not immune to grief. Despite what you may think, some friends will leave you when you need them the most. Perhaps they don’t know what to say or how to act. Maybe they are afraid to deal with your sadness and grief. Maybe they’re afraid that being a widow or widower is contagious and will happen to them. I don’t know the answers. All I know is that I am surprised at how friendships changed when I needed them the most.

    I decided to ask some widowed friends about their friendships. Did friendships change after their spouses died? Did people treat them differently now that they were widows/widowers?

    I quickly learned that I am not alone. The other widows/widowers faced unique but also similar circumstances with their friends.

    After speaking to people in similar situations, I now realize that in many cases, friendship and grief do not mix. Whether you have been friends for six months or 30 years, you do not know how your friendship will hold up during a crisis. Some friends step up and the bond becomes unbreakable while others simply disappear from your life.

    The reality is that people don’t want to think about their lives changing. They don’t want to think that they may someday be part of the group of people that are now referred to as widows and widowers. But when the day comes that they are a part of the group guess who they will come to for support? That’s right, those of us in the group. We most likely will be there for them, although they weren’t there for us. This is because we know the pain, loneliness, and isolation of being in the group. We have newfound compassion and tolerance. We have survived.