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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

They Just Don't Get It

Recently I was asked why some people 'just don't get it.'  Often we come across people who seem so cold and callous, as if impervious to the feelings of others, yet we know they have experienced similar losses.  One of the basic needs of a griever is to feel and express the gamut of emotions that flood them during a difficult time.  Maya Angelou once said: 'There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.'  Grief is hard work, it takes time and requires our full attention at first.  When we choose to ignore it, eventually it will rear its ugly head, and often at the strangest times.  

The key with grieving is our ability to 'share our story.'  This is a time when we need to reach out to others, find a listening ear, and let our story spill out.  When we bottle up our feelings and emotions, these suppressed feelings begin to eat away at us.  How often have you tried to hold back tears and found yourself having a difficult time swallowing because you could feel a huge lump in your throat, or have an unbearable heaviness in your chest and shoulders.  There is a price we pay for not working through our grief.  Yet so many individuals (often through no fault of their own), have pushed aside the hurt and emotions that come with the death of a loved one in hopes of getting on with their lives that much faster.  

These are the individuals who sometimes come across as impatient with others who they perceive as 'wallowing' in their grief.  These are individuals who have in fact experienced the death of a loved one themselves, but did not fully enter into their grief.  For those of us who reach out to these individuals hoping they can shed light on our own sorrow, we find ourselves stopped by a protective barrier of their own design.  They too may have reached out to someone during their sorrow, only to be pushed back and in turn that is all they know.  The lesson they may have learned about grieving is that it is a private 'thing' and 'no one really wants to hear it.'  

Fortunately for so many of us, the media has been more in tune with the emotions and realities of grief, and more and more shows and movies address the aftermath of loss.  For Downtown Abbey followers, Tom and Mary found that they could talk to each other about their subsequent losses and how it felt to be alone, and the confusion that surrounds us when we have lost someone we love.  The TV series Madam Secretary touched upon the many facets of grief, and how even within our own families there can be so much turmoil, confusion and conflict, especially if the death was suspicious or a suicide.  There have been a multitude of movies that broach the subject of death, and life after death.  Ghost showed us that the love does not die with our loved one; Field of Dreams demonstrated how we can be inspired by those we love even after their deaths.  The list goes on and on, there are so many more that speak of death and how we react to those losses.  At, you can find a list of just some of these movies, with additional movies listed by those commenting on the blog post.

Yet so many people will do everything they can to avoid the feelings and emotions that run wild during our grief; only to find them surfacing months or even years later.  Sadly for many individuals in order to suppress their feelings, they turn to other means of coping, which too often are unhealthy and can have devastating outcomes.  Many have told me that they began using substances such as drugs or alcohol to continue achieving a numbness, in hopes of not feeling and avoiding the pain that follows a loss.  Other addictive behaviors can also be used to avoid the seesaw ride of emotions in hopes that it will all go away.  Shopping, gambling, promiscuity, Internet, etc.; just about anything that begins to take on a life of its own causing us to fore go all other activities and/or other people.  Activities and behaviors which take us down paths that result in further losses and emotional turbulence.  

We have so many choices in life, and what we do with these choices dictate the outcomes.  We are all creations of the environments we grew up in, but that does not mean we need to continue repeating what we learned.  How we cope is learned from those we observed and looked up to, what we do with the lessons we learned is up to us.  It is true that each and everyone of us grieves in a totally distinct way, but the important factor here, is to grieve.  We need to grieve, we need to enter into those feelings and emotions, we need to allow ourselves to be angry, sad, happy, confused, and every other emotion in between.  There are certain rights of mourners, and so often we choose to ease the uncomfortableness of others and disregard our own right to mourn and grieve.  In grief, we often forget we are the one that is going through the sadness and hurt of losing someone we love, and forget to give ourselves the permission we need to enter into that loss.  

Too often we allow the misconception and misguidance of others to decide on how we should proceed through this maze of loss.  We even get mixed signals and directions from those who we know have been there before us.  The best advice I and many others can give to anyone who is joining the ranks of the bereaved, is to educate yourself about grief.  There are so many helpful websites, such a The Grief Toolbox and, and dedicated sites for those with specific types of loss, such as: and  There are a multitude of sites that can at least help you find some answers and explanations as to what you are experiencing, and that let you know you are not alone.  When my daughter Rachel died, it was sites such as these that kept me afloat.  Forums, blogs and informational sites helped me realize that what I was experiencing, feeling and doing where normal and natural reactions to the death of my daughter; and that I had nothing to feel ashamed of or hide from.  In educating myself, I was able to work through my loss, deal with the people who 'didn't get it,' and regain a sense of normalcy in my upturned world.  

The most important thing to remember is that you have suffered through the loss of someone you loved, someone who has been a part of your life, and has left an indelible mark on your heart.  You have the right to mourn and grieve for this person and no one can take that away from you.  For this very reason so many sites list the Mourner's Code or Griever's Bill of Rights, written by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., Center for Loss and Life Transition (, because we and others need to be reminded that we have earned the right to grieve.  Humans have grieved since the beginning of time and continue to do so, until we ourselves die.  This has been such an integral part of humanity, that rites, rituals and customs have been created and instituted by every race, creed and belief system to help us cope with our losses.  So the next time you come across someone who is unsympathetic or lacks compassion, let it go, and just remind yourself that they 'just don't get it!'  Someday maybe they will, and hopefully with the knowledge and experience you gained, you will be there to help them.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, February 1, 2016

It's been A While

Lately there have been so many deaths that leave a person questioning 'Why?'.  As a grief and support group facilitator, I have helped individuals who have suffered through the death of a loved one.  Many of those who I have worked with want a quick solution to the pain they are feeling or want to know how long before they will get over it.  Alas, there is no quick fix, no magic pill, or easy way out.  Grief is hard work, difficult to avoid and it takes time.  But those of us who have stuck in our heels and rolled up our sleeves, have found that the pay off is well worth the struggle. 

When it comes to time, there is no rushing it and it will take as much time as YOU require; there is no preset time frames or measured length.  Looking back after the loss of my daughter, for me it was a good three years before I can honestly say I was fully functional.  What I mean by this, is that I had learned to accept that Rachel was gone, but yet she was closer to me than ever before.  I could go through the day thinking of her without having to run and hide, or breaking into uncontrollable sobs.  It was also at this point, that I realized that listening to someone else's pain and grief did not send me back into a fetal position, as it had so many times before.   Yes it still hurt to know that Rachel was gone, and I still feel the ache of her absence even almost 10 years later, but it is a not a crippling, stop-me-in-my-tracks, kind of hurting.

Anyone who has had any major loss knows, that you truly never get over the loss of your loved one, you just learn how to live without them in your life.  Yet, some how some way that is hard to explain unless you have gone through it yourself, they become a bigger part of your life.  They go from the physical existence to a place of love that you keep in your heart. That place in your heart that knows that love truly never dies.  

So why does it hurt so much?  Why do I feel like the winds been knocked out of me?  Why?  Love!  Love is the reason it hurt so much.  We feel this way because someone we loved so dearly is gone and we miss what they represented in our lives.  We feel empty and alone and that somehow it just isn't fair.  Often I will hear words such as 'I needed more time' or 'it wasn't enough time,' and 'I didn't get to say good-bye.'  Yet would anyone of us be willing to give up what we had as a trade off for not hurting.  I can't speak for the rest of you, but I would not want to have missed a moment with my daughter, and given the outcome, I would gladly do it all again. 

Grief is a necessary part of healing.  If we are willing to allow ourselves to go through the process of grief, we emerge on the other side of it, with a new sense of who we are and what we value in life.  For the willing pupil, grief is a remarkable teacher.  Robert Browning Hamilton's poem 'I Walked A Mile With Pleasure' sums up what so many of us have learned about grieving...

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.

For me, I learned empathy,compassion and how to step back at truly look at a situation from every angle.  This has not only helped me, but now I have come to help others.  As I share with those I help, the benefits are two-fold, not only I am helping others through their grief, but I am also helping myself as well.  Each time their is participation and sharing in the group setting, I am reminded of how far I have come since the loss of my daughter.  For those who attend the group, I am visible proof that even though the struggle is real, you do make it and if you allow it to, you can become a better version of your old self.  Will you ever be the same again?  No!, because the person you were before the death of you loved one, has been transformed in ways that others may not understand or see.  These are not physical changes, but internal changes.  

Most of us recognize the changes in ourselves by the way we view our world and those around us.  We may be more aware of the sights and sounds, colors appear more vivid; we find ourselves leaning in a bit closer when a family member or friend is speaking; we may linger a few seconds longer over a cup of coffee when we are with someone we care about.  Subtle enough for others to miss, but profound enough to impact our lives and way of thinking.  We may also find that we lack patience with trivialities and nonsense that once consumed us, looking instead to what brings value and meaning into our lives..  There are a multitude of ways in which we adapt and change after the death of a loved one, and what we do with these changes is entirely up to us.   

The key to healing is sharing the stories (theirs and ours); expressing our feelings and emotions; giving ourselves permission to grieve, and allowing ourselves to take the time necessary to heal.  For those who find it difficult to open up to family and friends or get the sense that they don't want to hear it again; support groups, grief facilitators, counselors, ministers, etc., are all resources that you can tap into that can help.  These are all safe environments where you can share, listen and know that others understand, and are willing to walk with you during this time of grieving.  One thing to remember is that you are not alone, others have been there before, and so many are willing to help you go through it.  Look around you, someone is holding out their hand, do not be afraid to reach out and take the hand that is offered.  

Our grief is unique and no one truly knows what you are going through even if their loss is similar, but what they do know, is the pain and isolation when can feel when their grieving.  Be good to yourself, take care of yourself, and don't be afraid to ask for help.

Blessings!  Until we meet again.