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Thursday, August 14, 2014

What Advice Would You Give to Another

Recently I challenged those in the support group to share what advice they would give to someone who had just lost a loved one.  The answers varied depending on how long it had been since their loved one had died. My hope is that you will find some of the experiences these individuals have come to understand insightful to you.

As we began the sharing you heard some deep sighs as those present gave it much thought, but slowly they began to share imparting their new found wisdom on those who had just joined us.  

One participant began by sharing that you need to give yourself time; time to let it sink in; time to adjust to the changes in your life; time for yourself and most importantly time to go through the range of emotions.  

This is so very true, we find ourselves "rushed" through everything we do in life.  We rush to appointments, we hurry to get to work or class on time, we look for the shortest line in the grocery store, etc., etc.  But when it comes to grief, we begin to learn that in order to heal, we need to give ourselves time;  a commodity that is in short supply.  In grief, time is a relative word, because each of us requires different time-frames, and there are no rules or time frames when it comes to grieving.  It requires us to be patient with ourselves, understanding that there will be days when we need to stop and allow the emotions to run their course.  Days when all are good intentions are dashed away by some infinite trigger that turns us into a confused, emotional blob.  Days when we come to the realization that we are becoming someone new as we adapt to the new life we have been thrown into.  All this effort and work takes time, and in grief it is important to remember to take all the time you need, regardless of what society, family, friends and co-workers are telling you.  

Another participant said that they would strongly recommend that they seek out others who would at least understand, by joining support groups and going to counseling.  Further adding that they would also recommend that when ready, to seek out activities that would give them something to look forward to each day.  

Sage advice from someone who is hurting.  The key message here is that none of us needs to go it alone, there are many others who have experienced what we are experiencing; who have an understanding of what it means to lose someone we love; who gets it.  Joining support groups are a great way of sharing our stories and that of our loved ones, as well as listening to others; helping us to realize that others may be feeling the same way.  It also provides us with a safe environment that allows us to share thoughts, feelings and emotions; in a non-judgmental setting.  Counseling also gives us a safe place to fully express ourselves and many grievers will do both - get one-on-one counseling and join a local support group, finding that one lends itself to the other.  The goal is to find a support system that will be there for you on those difficult days and times during your grief.  And when you feel ready, finding activities that allow you to do things you love, helps you regain focus and gives you a renewed sense of purpose.  

It is important to remember that grief is hard work, it does take time, and it will get messy.  Learning all we can about what we are going through, about grief and its emotional and physical manifestations, can help us make some sense out of the chaos.  We need to be good to ourselves, taking it one day at a time, and if that seems like too much to handle, taking one moment at a time.  Learning to be patient with ourselves and the new person we are becoming with all its growing pains.  Coming to the knowledge that we are not alone, nor do we have to go it alone.  And realizing that we are not demonstrating weakness by shedding tears or asking for help, but rather, demonstrating great courage by doing so.  Grief can make us feel so terribly isolated, as if we are afloat on a vast sea, but that does not have to be the case.  There are beacons of hope all around us, we just need to believe that there are others who understand.  The only thing that is required from us, is to simply stretch out our hand, trusting that someone will grasp it, hold on tight and guide us into a safe harbor.  There we will find all the encouragement and hope we need.   

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Allow Yourself to Feel

Why are we so afraid to express our feelings?  What prevents us from releasing our pain, our sorrow?  Sadly, we live in a society that inhibits us, unless of course we are feeling happy, and have no cares in the world.  But even when we are feeling elated, we keep those emotions at bay as well.  Are we so afraid of letting others know how we feel, that we forget to feel.

Grief tugs at all those societal taboos that we have learned or experienced.  In grief the heeling begins when we start to share our story, when we allow the emotions to run their course.  Suppressing them only adds to our pain, and in time, whether we like it or not, they rear their ugly head, forcing us to face them.  

In the early days of my grief, I tried to remain strong, keeping it together.  At first it wasn't too difficult, after all the shock I was experiencing kept me safely cocooned from the harsh reality.  But eventually that too went away, and I was left standing at a precipice trying to decide which way to turn.  Where could I hide?  What could I do to escape this pain?  So many choices, so much to deal with.  After weeks of uncertainty and confusion, I began to give in to the emotions that would not relent.  Slowly at first, trying to control them, allowing (so I thought) the tears to fall only when no one was looking.  It became quite evident early on that this was impossible.  My emotions would flood over me, taking all my willpower with them, leaving me in an exhausted heap of tears.  To tired to fight, I would succumb to these "bouts" of uncontrollable tears, rage, quilt, and every other emotion that one could think of.  I felt like one big jumbled up mess.  

But what I did not realize at the time, was that my body was doing what it needed to make sense of my new reality.  By allowing myself to release those emotions I was keeping locked up inside me, I was allowing myself to begin to heal.  Each new tear that fell, each moment of speaking my thoughts and fears, and every time I allowed my body to succumb to the emotional roller coaster, brought me closer to healing.  It was not a continuous healing process, there where many, many days where I felt I was slipping backward, as if everything was beginning a new.  It was as if I feared if I "got better" I would forget Rachel, after all she had died, and I had no right to be happy again, to laugh again, to enjoy simple things again.  

Yet I did feel moments of happiness, especially when looking at photographs and recalling the times when Rachel had brought so much joy and happiness into my life.  At first foreign sounding to my ears, laughter did return, aided by remembering those moments that Rachel would make us all laugh until our sides would hurt.  Yes, with these memories tears would flow, but it was the memories, the reminders of a life lived that helped me move in a new direction; a new life without Rachel physically in it.  Like the releasing and sharing of my feelings and emotions, the memories too, helped me heal.  They helped me to accept the reality that had become my life, helped me to let go of her death and truly grasp onto what her life had meant to me, to my family and to all who had been privileged to know her.  

Speaking Rachel's name, and hearing it spoken, was music to my ears.  This simple gesture, helped ease my fears that she would be forgotten.  Finding individuals that not only allowed me to cry, but allowed me to share her story, my story, helped me make sense of it all.  There is a wonderful quote that I came upon just recently that sums up this last statement so well:  "A friend who understands your tears is much more valuable than a lot of friends who only know your smile."  (Lessons Learned in Life)  Grief is not a journey that we must travel alone, finding others who give us the space we need to express ourselves, to cry without trying to stop us, and to simply hold our hands when no words can be spoken, is truly an asset.  

Many of us may not have someone whom we feel we can be candid with, or comfortable enough to lay bare our vulnerability, your task is to seek out someone who will.  There are so many ways we can find help.  There are counselors and grief therapists, support groups and local faith communities that are available.  If you cannot find a local group, there are so many online communities that have ongoing forums and chat groups.  Speak to your primary care physician, he or she can direct you and help you find what you need.  Your local hospitals and hospice agencies may also be a source of information.  The important thing to remember here is that we only can begin to heal when we begin to express our emotions, share our story, talk about our loved one, and allow the tears (or what ever emotions that well up) to flow.  

There are so many of us who have experienced the death of a loved one, who are willing to listen, or to simply just sit for a while, to be a presence and a beacon of hope.  Individuals who serve as proof that this storm will pass, that we will make it through that rocky shore, and find ourselves standing once again in a place of peace and calm.  A place where we will embrace the life that our loved one possessed and the gifts that they brought into ours.  A place where we have a keen awareness of their presence in our lives, and can feel their love wrapping us in a warm embrace, letting us know that they are still with us.  Love has a beautiful way of reminding us that no matter what events take place in our lives, what upheavals may occur, we are gifts to each other.  Love conquers all, and it is because of love that we hurt, that we feel, but I would not trade anything in this world for the love I felt and still feel for Rachel and all my deceased loved ones.  Nor would any of you trade what you had with your loved one, their loved filled your life and continues to fill it still.  

Let love guide you through this time in your life, and allow yourself to express and share your feelings and emotions.  Allow yourself to feel.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Friday, July 18, 2014

You Should be So Over this By Now.

So many times I am asked the question, "When will I get over this?"  With grief, the sadness of losing someone does not completely go away, what we learn however, is to adapt to our new lives.  Often I will hear a comment that is worrisome from family or close friends of the griever, they will say something like it has been 6 months already, or it is going on 2 years, they should be totally over this by now. 

These comments send a mixed message to the griever, they are left feeling as if something is wrong with them, they can't be normal.  How can they be, when everyone that knows them well keeps telling them they should have seriously moved on already.  To add to this madness, the griever themselves is already in a whirlwind of confusion, not knowing which way to turn, or how to get a grip on the overwhelming emotions that refuse to subside. 

Instead of reducing someones grief to time frames and limits, allow the person who is experiencing the multitude of emotion that rage unbidden, to express themselves, share those feelings, and most importantly to talk about their loved one.  One of the greatest fears for those of us who are grieving is that others will forget about the one who died; so hearing his or her name is like a symphony to our ears.  Yes it may bring a tear to our eyes, but they are mixed tears, those of missing our loved one and joy in knowing that someone else remembers them. 

The main thing to remember is that no two people grieve alike, like snowflakes, we are each very unique.  When my daughter, Rachel died my husband and I were like polar opposites, he craved noise and busyness, I longed for the silence.  My two other children reacted in their very own unique ways, yet they were both morning the loss of a sibling.  But the thing most of us forget is that, yes, the loss may be the same, but the relationship with the deceased and vice versa, was totally unique to them.  In the loss of a child, a mother feels empty-armed, as if the baby she carried was whisked away.  For the father, there is a need to protect, to fix, to make things right again, and that moves them in different directions.  Only when their wife seems to be getting better, do they begin to let the pain in.  For those on the outside looking in, it appears as if the father isn't letting go, refusing to move on, and that opens up doors of vulnerability that men are unfamiliar with. 

In times of tragedy and death, there will be those who openly express their emotions and feelings, and others who remain stoic, almost uncaring.  The world perceives our attachment to our loved one by the way we react.  This is so unfair to so many people,  not everyone is comfortable openly expressing their feelings and emotions, while others are pouring it all out.  Our childhood, how we have watched others deal with loss, also effects are behavior, and is stored away and drawn upon when we are faced with life's crises.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, there is no starting or stopping points.  The key is to express our feelings, to share what we are experiencing, and above all, to speak about our loved ones.  We must allow the memories of those we love to carry us into the future; a future where we will be able to laugh again, to find the beauty in nature, and the joy in simple things.  And to remember that our loved ones are always with us, watching over us, loving us as they always did.  

So allow those tears to flow or not, allow yourself the time you need, take care of yourself by eating properly and getting rest, know that you are not going crazy; you, your mind, heart and body are trying to figure this all out.  Be patient with yourself and others, and give yourself the space you need, and do, do the the things that bring you comfort, that help you cope.  

And always remember that even though our loved one is no longer with us in this physical world, they remain with us always and that no matter what, their love never dies.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Grief Awareness Event

I was honored to be a guest speaker at such a wonderful and informative event.  This is a topic that so often is not addressed, and there are so many people who feel isolated and alone, believing no one else understands.  Great wisdom and insight from all the speakers.  Thank you Darlene for the invitation to be part of this detrimental event.  Grief is not something we sweep under the needs to be expressed and shared.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I Feel So Disconnected...

Feeling disconnected.  It has been quite some time since my last posting and something nudge me to come this way today.  I was preparing for this evenings support group meeting, looking for fresh material and an opening prayer or poem to welcome those who are returning or joining us for the first time, when a question caught my eye.  Do you have feelings of being disconnected?  If yes, from whom or what?  (Taken from A Gathering of Angels by Victoria Leland, RN in collaboration with five grieving mothers).  Followed by: What things can you do to help yourself (1) stay connected to your baby*, (2) feel okay about yourself during the time of disconnect with others, and (3) reconnect with others when you are ready?  *For me I simply substituted the word baby with daughter/child, you can simply change it to your loved one to represent whomever has died in your life.  

Do you feel disconnected?  For so many of us who have suffered through the death of a loved one, regardless of our relationship with them, we do so feel totally separated from the world around us.  For me the loss of a child, left me avoiding families that were still intact.  After my dad died, I felt little in common with those who's father was still alive and after the death of my last surviving grandparent I felt like I could never be loved in the way that only they could love me.  You get my drift.  These are very real and very normal feelings to experience after the death of a loved one.  We no longer feel whole, and seeing others who have what we so desperately long to have again leaves us feeling alone and isolated, totally disconnected from the world.  Add to that the feelings of no longer being able to see, touch or hear our loved one in the physical realm, seems to further widen this disconnection. The whoms or whats are numerous and vary with the relationship we had with our loved ones, what they brought into our lives, and who we were when we were with them. 

So how do we bridge this disconnect?  Amazingly after almost 8 years after my daughter Rachel's death, I feel more connected to her now than I ever did before.  She has become an integral part of my very being, and is never very far from my thoughts and daily routine.  Her memory lives on in so many ways in my life, and her love of life is reflected so beautifully in the faces and actions of my grandchildren.  And just when I feel lonely or saddened by a sudden memory or other trigger, I am gently reminded that she is near.  For instance just yesterday morning as I reached for the handle of my car door I spied a penny lying on the ground, as I bent down to pick it up I silently whispered Good Morning Rachel.  As I started the engine, I could not help but smile as a feeling of comfort and warmth flooded over me. 

But this was not always the case for me.  In the first few months and years, I felt totally alone, totally out of sync with the world and those around me.  In time I learned to accept that this was normal and okay.  By allowing myself to become disconnected from the day to day world around me, I gave myself the space I needed to heal, to accept and to recognize the beauty that had come into my life with the birth of my daughter.  During this time, I allowed my self to question, to cry, to be angry, and to even allow myself bouts of self-pity.  It was during this time of deep awareness that I came to fully understand who I was, what mattered most to me, and what choices only I could make.  It was not always easy, I sometimes did not like the person staring back at me in the mirror, and there were times that retreating from the world seemed like the best option  But I can honestly say, if I had not allowed my self that space to unplug myself from life, I would probably still be spinning out of control even now.  

The beauty of accepting the 'disconnect' was that it gave me time to understand my grief, to get to know the person I was becoming, and to get acclimated to the new 'normal' in my life.  To a life without my eldest daughter Rachel physically in it and to the possibilities that only Rachel's death could bring into my life.  So when I was 'ready to reconnect' with the world, it was on my terms, with a new perspective on life, a renewed sense of purpose and a resolve to help others who were grieving too. 

For those of you who are trying to be there for someone who is grieving the death of a loved one,  the greatest gift you can give them is space.  Be understanding and compassionate when they tell you that can't go to a party, or be with others.  They may not be able to face the reminders of what is so sharply missing from their lives.  In time they will come around, just let them know you are there for them and are willing to just sit, listen or simply hold their hand.  

Grief is not easy, it takes time and is definitely hard work, and each and everyone of us grieves very differently.  So embrace the disconnection, learn to forge new connections with your deceased loved ones, and reconnect on your terms and in your way.  But most importantly, just know that you are not alone, ever, your loved one is always with you, for love is not governed by death and it finds it's way even through the murkiest darkness. 

Blessings! and until we meet again.