Comfort For Those Who Mourn

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The following articles have been taken from: www.counselingforloss.com/

 

by Marianist Mission

 

So many people see in death nothing but a cruel separation from loved ones. Even good and religious people make that sad mistake. In death there is certainly the very real pain and sorrow of physical separation. But it is equally true that our loved ones remain with us. They do not just go off to some dark and distant place. They simply continue into eternal life. We do not see them because we are still in the darkness of this world. But their spiritual eyes, filled with the light of heaven, are always watching us as they wait for the day when we shall share their perfect joy. We are born for heaven and we end this life of tears to begin our life of endless happiness.

I have often reflected upon this beautiful truth and found it the greatest and surest comfort in time of mourning. A firm faith in the real and continual presence of our loved ones has brought the conviction and consolation that death has not destroyed them, nor carried them away. Rather it has given them life! A life with power to know fully and to love perfectly. With this new life and new power our loved ones are always present to us, knowing and loving us more than ever before. The tears that dampen our eyes in times of mourning are tears of homesickness, tears of longing for our loved ones. But it is we who are away from home, not they! Death has been for them a doorway to an eternal home. They are still with us, lovingly and tenderly waiting for the day when we, too, will enter the doorway of our eternal home. It is such a mistake to see death as separation and nothing more. For us who believe, death is a preparation for eternal union with those we love, in the peace and joy of heaven.

 

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Mother's Grief

  1. Don't try to be perfect with your emotions. Feelings come in negative and positive amounts. Yours are simply yours, and you have a right to them. There is no perfect way to grieve.
  2. Take some time for yourself. Time alone is valuable; it gives you an opportunity to clear your mind. Go somewhere away from home, where negative memories don't cloud your emotions.
  3. Be kind to yourself. This is such a terribly painful period of your life. You need to bring small pleasures into your daily existence where possible.
  4. If months down the road you are still crying most of the time, try to discipline your emotional outpourings. Too much, too long has the effect of alienating everyone, leaving you unsupported. Don't shut off your emotions; just temper them slightly.
  5. Find support people and risk sharing your negative and shame-based feelings.
  6. Find support people so that you can continue to talk about your child. This is necessary for you to get a balance with your memories.
  7. Live one day at a time, and stop planning the outcome of things.
  8. Don't expect so much from yourself--or from anyone else for that matter. Expectations always lead to disappointments.
  9. Get more rest. Grief work takes as much out of you physically as hard labor. Take a nap in the afternoon or rest when you come home from your job. Try getting to bed earlier at night.
  10. Learn to use more assertive methods for releasing emotions. Note that I said "assertive," not aggressive. You can behave aggressively toward things, but if you use aggression with people, the consequences will never be what you want.
  11. Ask for what you want from husbands, bosses, children, and family; make sure you don't just sit back and expect them to do things. Again, expectations lead to disappointments. Let them all know what you need.
  12. Let go of control. We have no real control anyway, except within. Realize that a power greater than yourself can give you the strength to handle all your overwhelming feelings and negative thoughts. All you have to do is let them go. Things will work out.
  13. Because grief is a time of accelerated fears, acknowledge your anxieties. If you admit their presence, they will eventually leave--but only if you don't run from them.

 

Father's Grief

  1. Take some time for yourself Go fishing, take long bike rides or walks in the woods, or spend a weekend or two alone at the beach. This allows time to eliminate distractions momentarily
  2. Don't take on any new responsibilities. Give up some.
  3. Allow yourself to cry. This is a most healthy response because it not only lets out store-up tensions, but it releases toxins from your body.
  4. Deal with your natural anger by venting on things, not people.
  5. Talk with other bereaved fathers and focus on your feelings--not how to help your wife. There is a good possibility that you need more help than she does.
  6. Talk with your wife about your feelings. Listen to her.
  7. Accept the fact that men grieve differently from women, and talk to your wife about this. Let her know your needs.
  8. Read about grief, the feelings and responses that you can expect to occur. Discuss what you read with other bereaved fathers.
  9. Take one day at a time. It's the only way.

An Old Adage Helpful to Many

Joanie Overbeck - TLC Group, Dallas Texas

"Making lemonade out of lemons" was an adage I had heard all of my life, but until I was faced with what looked like the worst nightmare of my life, it really had no meaning for me. Now, I can say that this phrase and the attitude it exudes helped me get through one of the darkest hours of my life. The perspective invoked by this saying has helped many resolve their grief in the most positive of ways, including myself.

On the same day in September, 1987, I delivered a stillborn baby and due to complications had a partial hysterectomy. I had no other children. I was lost and felt like my future had been erased. I had no idea what to do next. But, for some reason that old adage that I had to make lemonade out of lemons came to me. I didn't want these tragedies to defeat me, keep me down. I wanted to find a way to make these tragedies into something positive. And, fortunately an opportunity arose that allowed me to do just that.

A nurse in the labor and delivery department, that had been by our sides during some of the most crucial hours, asked me to be a part of a bereavement program for other parents. That program included talking with parents on the phone and a support group. I was able to be of some help to other parents and by being of some help to others, my husband's and my travail was not in vain. Our baby's short life became so meaningful. And, most of our "why's" were answered.

I no longer felt like a victim. I was a survivor. I might have stayed stuck in my grief if I hadn't had the opportunity to make something good out of a profoundly sad situation. "Making lemonade out of lemons" was the very best grief medicine for me as it has been for others.

Many, many people have chosen to "make lemonade out of lemons". And, because they did, the world is a far better and safer place. MADD was founded because Candy Lightner's daughter was killed. Many, many lives have been saved because of her efforts. Polly Klaas's father Marc has made a huge impact on child abuse laws. Nancy Brinker has raised money and awareness for breast cancer victims in memory of her sister through the Susan B. Komen Foundation.

The list is long. Most are just average citizens who woke up to a particular cause and the need for change. They took their grief and the memory of their loved one and decided to help others as a tribute to their loved one and as a way to deal constructively with their grief.

I cannot tell you when is the right time or what is the right way to "make lemonade out of your lemons", but I want to plant the seed because you, your loved ones and the world will be better off if you find a way to use the learning and compassion from your loss to help someone else. What a wonderful living tribute and memorial to your loved one.

(TLC Group grants anyone the right to use this information without compensation so long as the copy is not used for profit or as training materials in a profit making activity such as workshops, lectures, and seminars, and so long as this paragraph is retained in its entirety.)

 

Beware the 5 Stages of "Grief"

Editorial - TLC Group, Dallas Texas

Few concepts have insinuated themselves into the popular culture as thoroughly as the so called "5 Stages of Grief": Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. We've heard it from professionals in all areas of the healthcare system (who should know better) as well as from lay persons of all ages (who shouldn't). There is even a lengthy comedy routine about it by Dustin Hoffman playing Lenny Bruce in the movie Lenny. The time has now come to ditch it as the concept has done more harm than good.

Three Common Myths about the 5 Stages:

  1. The 5 Stages of Grief were defined by Elsabeth Kubler-Ross In her book "On Death and Dying", Macmillan Publishing Company, 1969, she presents 5 stages terminally ill persons may go through upon learning of their terminal illness. She presents them as "an attempt to summarize what we have learned from our dying patients in terms of coping mechanisms at the time of a terminal illness". These stages were not originally the 5 stages of Grief but better: The 5 Stages of Receiving Catastrophic News. Over the next 28 years, healthcare professionals, clergy, nurses, doctors, caregivers, students, and other readers of the book somehow mutated the stages into the 5 stages of Grief.
  2. The 5 Stages define the process a bereaved person must go through in order to resolve their grief. Grief is a complicated, multi-dimensional, individual process that can never be generalized in 5 steps. In fact, as will be shown, a person will generally have to go through the 5 stages before true grieving can even begin.
  3. A person who isn't progressing through the 5 stages in sequence and in a timely manner needs professional help. This common belief has caused a lot of problems and misunderstandings. One researcher has shown that some caregivers have actually gotten angry at the bereaved person for not following the stages in order! The person shouldn't be angry yet because they haven't been through Denial.

All of the above points to a basic misunderstanding about what grief is to begin with so it's not surprising that myths continue to propagate. This is most likely because the pervasiveness and impact of grief wasn't really recognized by the psychological community until around the 1980s and even then it was slow in coming.

For example, in 1974 "The Handbook of Psychiatry" defined grief as "...the normal response to the loss of a loved one by death." Response to other kinds of losses were labeled "Pathological Depressive Reactions".

In 1984, Dr. Terese Rando---a noted grief specialist, researcher and author---defined grief as "...process of psychological, social and somatic reactions to the perception of loss".

In 1991, the Grief Resource Foundation of Dallas, Texas found that, for them, a good working and practical definition of Grief as "the total response of the organism to the process of change".

Today, in December 1996, we at TLC Group have come to accept the Grief Response as the Unified Field Theory of All Mental Illness (a subject of another Tip of The Month!)

Curiously, most non-grief specialists commonly accept the definition of grief given in 1974. So what is grief and what produces it? A helpful equation, which proves itself daily in all instances is: Change=Loss=Grief.

This means that:

  1. A change of circumstance of any kind (a change from one state to another) produces a loss of some kind (the stage changed from) which will produce a grief reaction.
  2. The intensity of the grief reaction is a function of how the change-produced loss is perceived. If the loss is not perceived as significant, the grief reaction will be minimal or barely felt.
  3. Significant grief responses which go unresolved can lead to mental, physical, and sociological problems and contribute to family dysfunction across generations.

So, are the 5 Stages without value? Not if they are used as originally intended, as The 5 Stages of Receiving Catastrophic News. One can even extrapolate to The 5 Stages of Coping With Trauma. Death need not be involved.

As an example, apply the 5 stages to a traumatic event most all of us have experienced: The Dead Battery! You're going to be late to work so you rush out to your car, place the key in the ignition and turn it on. You hear nothing but a grind; the battery is dead.

  1. DENIAL --- What's the first thing you do? You try to start it again! And again. You may check to make sure the radio, heater, lights, etc. are off and then..., try again.
  2. ANGER --- "%$@^##& car!", "I should have junked you years ago." Did you slam your hand on the steering wheel? I have. "I should just leave you out in the rain and let you rust."
  3. BARGAINING --- (realizing that you're going to be late for work)..., "Oh please car, if you will just start one more time I promise I'll buy you a brand new battery, get a tune up, new tires, belts and hoses, and keep you in perfect working condition.
  4. DEPRESSION --- "Oh God, what am I going to do. I'm going to be late for work. I give up. My job is at risk and I don't really care any more. What's the use".
  5. ACCEPTANCE --- "Ok. It's dead. Guess I had better call the Auto Club or find another way to work. Time to get on with my day; I'll deal with this later."

This is not a trivial example. In fact, we all go through this process numerous times a day. A dead battery, the loss of a parking space, a wrong number, the loss of a pet, a job, a move to another city, an overdrawn bank account, etc. Things to remember are:

  • Any Change Of Circumstance can cause us to go through this process.
  • We don't have to go through the stages in sequence. We can skip a stage or go through two or three simultaneously.
  • We can go through them in different time phases. The dead battery could take maybe 5 to 10 minutes, the loss of a parking space 5 to 10 seconds. A traumatic event which involves the Criminal Justice System can take years.
  • The intensity and duration of the reaction depends on how significant the change-produced loss is perceived.

It was mentioned above that Grieving only begins where the 5 Stages of "Grief" leave off. Grief professionals often use the concept of "Grief Work" to help the bereaved through grief resolution. One common definition of Grief Work is summarized by the acronym TEAR:

T = To accept the reality of the loss
E = Experience the pain of the loss
A = Adjust to the new environment without the lost object
R = Reinvest in the new reality

This is Grief Work. It begins when the honeymoon period is over, the friends have stopped calling, everyone thinks you should be over it, the court case is resolved, "closure" has been effected, and everything is supposed to be back to normal. It's at this point that real grieving begins.

Notice that the first step of Grief Work is ACCEPTANCE, the last stage of the 5 Stages of Grief. Let's throw out the 5 stages of grief and replace it with a greater understanding of Grief Recognition and Resolution.

 

Children And Grief

When a family member dies, children react differently from adults. Preschool children usually see death as temporary and reversible--a belief reinforced by cartoon characters who "die" and "come to life" again. Children between five and nine begin to think more like adults about death, yet they still believe it will never happen to them or anyone they know.

Adding to a child's shock and confusion at the death of a brother, sister or parent is the unavailability of other family members, who may be so shaken by grief that they are notable to cope with the normal responsibility of child care.

Parents should be aware of normal childhood responses to a death in the family, as well as danger signals. According to child and adolescent psychiatrists, it is normal during the weeks following the death for some children to feel immediate grief or persist in the belief that the family member is still alive. But long-term denial of the death or avoidance of grief is unhealthy and can later surface in more severe problems.

A child who is frightened about attending a funeral should not be forced to go; however, some service or observance is recommended, such as lighting a candle, saying a prayer or visiting a grave site.

Once children accept the death, they are likely to display their feelings of sadness on and off over a long period of time, and often at unexpected moments. The surviving relatives should spend as much time as possible with the child, making it clear that the child has permission to show his or her feelings openly or freely.

The person who has died was essential to the stability of the child's world, and anger is a natural reaction. The anger may be revealed in boisterous play, nightmares, irritability or a variety of other behaviors. Often the child will show anger towards the surviving family members.

After a parent dies, many children will act younger than they are. The child may temporarily become more infantile, demanding food, attention and cuddling, and talking "baby talk."

Younger children believe they are the cause of what happens around them. A young child may believe a parent, grandparent, brother or sister died because he or she had once "wished" the person dead. The child feels guilty because the wish "came true." Some danger signals to watch for:

  • An extended period of depression in which the child loses interest in daily activities and events.
  • Inability to sleep, loss of appetite, prolonged fear of being alone.
  • Acting much younger for an extended period.
  • Excessively imitating the dead person; repeated statements of wanting to join the dead person.
  • Withdrawal from friends.
  • Sharp drop in school performance or refusal to attend school.

These warning signs indicate that professional help may be needed. A child and adolescent psychiatrist can help the child accept the death and assist the survivors in helping the child through the mourning process.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Families and the Grief Process

Kathleen Braza, M.A.

Background

The experience of grief wears many faces for children and families whose lives are challenged by change, turmoil, illness, death and/or the loss of hopes and dreams. Grief is a process not easily acknowledged in our society, particularly the grief of experiences other than death. Yet grief is often an integral part of most life changes and experiences. Families who can acknowledge their grief and learn healthy ways to express their pain can then free their emotional energies to focus on life and the challenges ahead. Grief that is not allowed a healthy release frequently finds expression in anger, child abuse and/or neglect, substance abuse, illness and sometimes by the sabotaging of another's efforts to help.

It is a commonplace in the bereavement literature that unresolved grief can lead to difficulties coping with any losses throughout life. Families in need of crisis and respite care all struggle with feelings of loss. For example, a mother who seeks out crisis nursery services may also be in the process of divorce which brings its own unique grief to the situation. The family of a child considered medically fragile who is in need of respite care may experience a sense of loss over not having a "healthy" or "perfect" child. Knowledge of the process of grief and how to help individuals and families cope with their loss experiences can be an invaluable asset to crisis nurseries and respite care programs and their service providers. By offering individuals and families opportunities to grieve their losses and acknowledging the hurt that accompanies those losses, we offer them tools and strategies to cope with the ongoing losses that are a part of everyone's life.

What is Grief?

Grief is one's own personal experience of loss. Mourning, on the other hand is "grief gone public." It is the outward sharing and expression of the pain. Sometimes it is helpful to make a distinction between the two in order to understand that there are some individuals in our society who have "permission" to grieve but cannot mourn. Society does not easily acknowledge the grief of a parent whose child is born with a disability, parents who experience a miscarriage, families where a loved one is diagnosed with a life threatening illness, families affected by AIDS, etc. Caregivers can be helpful to such families by labeling their experience as one of grief and normalizing their pain and emotions. It is important to remember that all losses need to be grieved in some way.

The Emotions of Grief

People experience the pain of grief with a variety of emotional responses which include shock ("it can't be true"), denial ("the tests were wrong"), anger ("why did she get AIDS and not someone else?"), guilt ("why did I smoke [or drink alcohol] during my pregnancy"), fear ("will my other children die, too?"), exhaustion, depression, confusion, and bargaining("if only we could have a miracle"). These are just a few of the myriad of emotions people in grief experience. It is also important to understand that people experience these emotions in a roller-coaster fashion: sometimes feeling up and hopeful, other days feeling deeply depressed, other days coasting along and feeling virtually no emotion. All of these emotions are a normal part of the grief and mourning process.

Healing Strategies for Helping Families Grieve

It is important when working with anyone who is grieving to do the following:

  • Become aware of your own personal issues around grief. This means becoming aware of your own fears, attitudes and beliefs about grief. For example, if an individual were raised to believe that "We don't air our dirty laundry in public," then that individual may have difficulty helping a family who needs to vent and share their pain openly and/or with great emotion.
  • Acknowledge the family's grief. Label their experience as one of grief. Let them know they have a right to have their feelings.
  • Be there. One's presence can be the greatest gift given to a grieving individual. Sometimes holding someone's hand, offering a hug, or just acknowledging, "This must be so hard for you," can be enough to support someone in their grief process.
  • Listen. Grieving people need to share their pain with another person who will not judge them or give them advice and suggestions. Listening to someone tell their story over and over can often be an invaluable gift to them in helping them sort through their feelings and release their pain.
  • Offer "permission to grieve." Teach grieving families that it is important to express the emotions of grief, but that there are ways to express pain that are more healing than others. For example, an angry parent can learn to express their anger through physical activity such as yard work, tearing up old phone books, writing letters, or screaming in a pillow. The key is to help grieving people find constructive ways to release their feelings of grief rather than to take it out on others or themselves.
  • Help families create a memory book. This might include photos, drawings, funny things someone said or did, etc. This is especially helpful to families who have experienced a death.
  • Develop and encourage support groups. Support groups give families a chance to share their pain with others experiencing loss.
  • Children love, therefore they grieve. Encourage children to participate in all of the above suggestions. By teaching children how to deal with the pain of loss early in life, we can teach them how to grieve the losses that are an inevitable part of their future lives, losses such as moving, divorce, the break-up of a relationship, or the death of a friend, loved one, or pet. Children can draw pictures or write letters to an ill sibling as a way to express their love and concern.
  • Encourage families to write letters to someone who has died or is ill. Frequently they can express many unresolved emotions in letters that need never be sent. Writing a letter or note to a child who is in a crisis nursery may offer a parent a healing release of feelings of frustration and despair.
  • Every grieving individual or family can teach us about what they need from us at this painful time in their lives. Grieving individuals can also remind us about what truly is important and meaningful in our own lives.

Caring for Self

It is very important when working with individuals who are in pain to take good care of oneself, physically and emotionally. There are times when care providers can become too involved or attached to trying to "fix" the problems their families face. This can deplete the psychological energy needed to work effectively with families who are experiencing grief. It is helpful to realize that each of us have gifts to share with others, such as the gifts of one's presence, understanding, love, and concern. Becoming overly attached to how others receive these gifts, sets us up for pain and disappointment. It is also important to nurture oneself on a regular basis by setting limits, treating oneself in special ways, and taking moments each day to renew, relax and appreciate life.

When To Be Concerned

There are times when the grief experience can be overwhelming and individuals and/or families may need more extensive counseling and support. Clues to more complicated grief and mourning include:

  • lack of basic self-care
  • unusual and alarming behavior patterns
  • suicidal threats or attempts
  • multiple losses that can be overwhelming
  • severe withdrawal and/or depression
  • substance abuse
  • radical lifestyle changes

Summary

All losses need to be grieved: obvious losses as well as symbolic losses, such as the loss of hopes and dreams, or the loss of what never will be. Since families who seek out crisis nursery and respite care services are also families experiencing some kind of loss, knowledge of the grief process, and how to assist someone in the process, can enhance one's effectiveness and sensitivity to families in need.

About the author:

Kathleen Braza, M.A., is a bereavement consultant and national speaker on issues of grief and loss in adults and children.

 

Children's Grief

  1. Be open, honest, and gentle in describing the death. Only offer details that the children can absorb. Don't overload.
  2. Have family powwows on a weekly basis or more often. Give each child a chance to talk.
  3. Give each child the opportunity to participate in devising meaningful family rituals.
  4. Check with each child to see if he or she is feeling guilt. Offer reassurance.
  5. Don't be afraid to let your child see you cry. They need to know that crying is a natural response.
  6. Be there for your children. They will need your affection and security now more than ever.

Grief and Your Health
Margaret H. Gerner, M.S.W.

The loss of a child is a life-shattering experience. It affects us physically as well as emotionally. The grief we experience is felt on an emotional level and the stress of these emotions can create havoc with our bodies. If we had a physical illness before our child died our grief can exacerbate the existing illness. It can also open the way for physical illness if we have been previously healthy. Grief makes us susceptible to diseases such as the common cold sore throats and other infections. Other diseases shown to be connected to the stress of grief are ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis asthma heart disease and cancer. The connection between the mind and body is not always recognized, but there is real scientific evidence that what we think and feel has a direct effect on our biological systems. This is an especially important issue for bereaved parents because the loss of a child is the ultimate in stress and a stress that lasts so very long.

Bodies of all human beings (and animals alike) react to stress in basically the same manner. In 1944 Hans Selye a neurophysiologist formulated the three phases of stress reactions but it is only recently that scientists can identify with considerable accuracy what actually takes place. According to Selye the reaction to stress happens in three phases but for our purpose we will only discuss phase one.

The first phase or the "alarm reaction" occurs immediately on contact with the stressor (grief at the death of our child). At the death the brain "translates" the stress of grief into a chemical reaction in the body. The pituitary gland located at the base of the brain is stimulated to produce a hormone called adrenocorticotrophin hormone (ACTH). This reaction is a "protective" one and in essence makes the body ready to do battle. The ACTH (from the pituitary gland) then travels to the adrenal gland, a gland at the top of the kidneys, which causes a chemical reaction which ultimately produces cortisone. As the cortisone level increases it causes the production of ACTH to level off. This circle of the building up of one chemical that stimulates the production of another chemical that "turns off " the original one is known as "biofeedback.".

What happens in the case of grief where the stress continues for many months' The biofeedback does not operate as it should. Because the stress is continuing, the production of ACTH is continuing thus causing the adrenal gland to produce more and more cortisone. The result is an abnormally high level of cortisone circulating in the blood sometimes exceeding ten to twenty times the normal levels.)

A high level of cortisone is one of the things that causes our immune system (the system that normally tights off disease carrying bacteria fungi and viruses) to falter. The high level of cortisone affects yet another gland the thalamus which manufactures the white cells of our blood. With the thalamus not functioning properly It cannot produce white cells that are effective. Those white cells normally locate and phagocytize (eat up) the invading germs. viral particles or even pre-cancerous cells. Thus with the white cells unable to function properly the individual is 100% more susceptible to the most common germs.

Of course this is an over simplified description of the chemistry of stress but knowing that there is a legitimate reason for susceptibility to illness during grief encourages us to take preventive measures. Knowledge that changes in eating habits; problems with sleeping: restlessness; lack of physical energy; and various other manifestations, are a normal part of the grieving process will lessen the stress to some extent. Another way to lessen the stress and probably the most helpful is to acknowledge and appropriately express the emotions that we feel during grief. These measures can considerably decrease the potential for illness to develop because it displaces and releases the tension brought on by the stress of grief. And certainly good nutrition exercise and proper rest are essential preventive measures.

Another point to consider too is that the stress of grief is rarefy the only stress we are experiencing at the time of our child's death. Problems in our marriage or with our surviving children are only two examples of the other stresses that may be added to the stress of grief. Put a number of stresses together and our bodies will surely suffer.

We must be very aware that our child's death and the resultant grief is a legitimate reason for physical illness. We must do whatever we can to lessen our susceptibility. Heading directly into our grief and allowing ourselves to face our painful emotions is the most helpful thing we can do. Talking about our child and the circumstances of the death crying when we need to and talking with someone who will listen non-judgmentally to our anger and guilt is the only way to successfully resolve our grief—and ultimately resolve the stress that is caused by the grief.

The majority of bereaved parents experience some kind of physical illness in the first four to six months after the death of their child. For most the illness can be directly tied into the extreme stress of their child's death. I know it is hard to be concerned about yourself physically when you hurt so badly emotionally. but remember you will not always be in this emotional pain. Remember too if you have damaged your body in the early months of grief you run the risk of never completely recovering from the physical illness—and recovery for bereaved parents means recovery in body as well as mind.

 

Handling Grief Through The Holidays

By Joanie Overbeck - TLC Group, Dallas Texas

Contrary to popular belief and advertisers, the holidays are not a time everyone looks forward to. If you have lost someone through death or divorce or lost your home, your job or your dreams or relocated or..., this holiday season may be dreaded. You may wish you could just snap your fingers and it would be January.

Even though no one can take away your pain or struggle, there are things to do that will make the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable. One of the most difficult aspects of traumatic change is loss of control which leads to feelings of instability and insecurity. By implementing the following, you can begin to regain control and take some very positive steps toward loss recovery.

Plan

Don't play ostrich and let the holidays ambush you. Divide tasks into essential and non-essential. Shop by catalog or when the stores are less crowded. Change the routine or location. Start a new tradition. And, consult with immediate family members so all voices are heard.

Let Your Needs be Known

If you need help in preparation of a meal, ask. If you have some bittersweet times and need a shoulder to lean on, ask. If you want to talk about your loved one or the difficulty of this holiday, ask. Your family and friends are not mind-readers.

Develop One or More Coping Techniques

There will be rough times and days. Decide on what your stress reducer will be - hot baths, long walks, deep breathing exercises, calling a friend, etc.

Watch Your Physical Health

Make sure you get extra rest and eat well. Overdoing (or dancing as fast as you can) is often a reaction to grief which can lead to total physical and mental exhaustion if carried to an extreme. You have enough to deal with; be kind to yourself and those that have to interact with you.

Resolve to Use Your Learning to Help Someone Else

Although you may have been through the most difficult year of your life, you have also grown in compassion and understanding for others. By using that knowledge to help someone else, you give meaning to your loss.

TLC Group grants anyone the right to use this information without compensation so long as the copy is not used for profit or as training materials in a profit making activity such as workshops, lectures, and seminars, and so long as this paragraph is retained in its entirety.

 

Rules of Grief Etiquette

by Joan Rudnicki
Evanston, Illinois

 
 
I am the mother of four children. My daughter, Jean, is a fifth-grader; my son, Stephen, is a first-grader; my son, Christopher, is almost two; and my oldest child, Ellen, died of a brain tumor four years ago. If Ellen had lived, she would be an eighth-grader at Haven Middle School in Evanston, Illinois.

I am not a grief professional; I am a bereaved person, and I count myself the friend of scores of bereaved people. Most of these people have lost children, but some have lost spouses, parents or dear friends or other relatives.

In the four years since Ellen died, I have attended more than one hundred grief support group meetings, so I am confident that I speak for many bereaved people when I offer what I call the "Rules of Etiquette to Help Those in Grief." If you are like I was before my daughter died, you probably are familiar with some, but not all, of these "rules."

Before my daughter died, I wasn't sure how to help people who had suffered a loss. From somewhere - probably my mom I thought that writing a condolence letter was a good idea, so sometimes I did that. But if I couldn't think of the right words, I didn't write the letter at all. I didn't always avoid bereaved people. But if I thought they didn't see me (say, at the grocery store), I did avoid them. Usually I was relieved if I didn't have to interact with them too much until enough time had passed and it looked like they were "over it.,'

In my heart, I knew I wasn't helping them much. But on the other hand, I was sure I wasn't hurting them. I knew I never said the wrong thing, because I used our conversations to distract them from their grief. I never spoke about the person who died - after all, what would I do if the bereaved person started to cry? So I chatted about the weather, or redecorating the house or where we went on vacation, etc.

When Ellen died, I learned the hard way that even with the best intentions this way of dealing with bereaved people is unsupportive -perhaps even hurtful. Unless a person who is trying to be comforting has experienced a similar loss themselves, they generally need to be told what to do to give the help that is needed. Our culture often does not prepare us to interact in a supportive way with those who are struggling to cope with the death of a loved one. Therefore, I would like to share the following "rules of grief etiquette."

Rule #1:
Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who died. Have the courage to say the deceased person’s name.

Do this whether the death occurred ten days, ten months or ten years ago. People die, but our love never dies. Let me say it again, love never dies. That is what grief and mourning are all about. We have to find constructive ways to deal with all of that love for someone who is no longer here to receive it. I love Ellen today, four years after her death, as much as the day she was born. I fell in love with her that day and my love for her will never die.

If you knew the person who died, please share your memories. If you think a father would have loved to have seen his daughter make that great soccer play, tell his widow. If you didn't know the person who died, ask about him or her. What was his favorite color; what did she like to do on a beautiful, sunny fall afternoon?

If you don't talk about the person who died, it is as if he or she never lived at all, and that is even worse than the death. A bereaved father I know told me that when his family and friends refuse to talk about his absent son, it is as if his beloved child had been killed all over again.

A caveat to this rule is to ask the bereaved person if this is a good time to recount a memory. You might say, "You know, I just remembered something about (use the name of the loved one)." Or, "I would like to ask you something about your (wife! husband! dad! mom! child! sibling ...). Is this a good time for you to hear it?" If the answer is no, stop there. But ask them again a few days or weeks later. At some point, the bereaved persons will be not only ready, but very grateful for your gift of remembrance. Nothing brings me more joy than hearing a memory someone shares about Ellen.

Another caveat: When you talk about the person who died, your worst fears might come true and the bereaved person might cry, but those tears are good and very healing. You can look at those tears in a positive light. I once came across a list of about ten milestones for a bereaved person that lets that person know that he or she is making progress on the journey of grief. All of those milestones began with the phrase: You know you're feeling better when ..." One of the milestones is, "You know you're feeling better when you can say your loved one's name or tell a story about your loved one and not cry.

This milestone does not happen magically at some point in time. We no longer cry when we hear something that used to make us cry because we have finally told our story enough to take the raw, stinging pain out of it. How many times each of us has to tell the story before we can do it without crying is unique for each one. Some bereaved people seldom cry when talking about the person who died; some cry every time for years.

Rule #2:
Saying nothing to a bereaved person about his or her loss is wrong. Saying the "wrong thing" sincerely is actually better than saying nothing at all.

Say, "I'm sorry," or "I wish you didn't have to feel so much pain," or "I don't know what to say, but I really care."--you feel as if you've already said the wrong thing, acknowledge it, but don't change the subject to cover it up.

Rule #3:
Listen and do not give advice.

Allow the survivor to talk. Say, "I don't know what your loss is like, but if you want to tell me about it, I would like to listen." If the bereaved person doesn't want to talk, wait and ask again another day. Keep making it clear that you want to listen. Ask again and again even years later. Because love never dies, the pain from the loss never totally disappears. The deep, sharp pain of new grief does change. It becomes less intense, less overwhelming. With adequate support, the bereaved person will be able to manage the pain instead of being at the mercy of it.

Rule #4:
Remember significant days.

Some potentially difficult times are holidays, the change of seasons, the absent one's birthday, wedding anniversaries and, of course, the anniversary of the day the person died. Don't ignore these special and significant times. If you know the survivor(s) well, ask how you can help them on those days. If you don't know them well, send a card and/or write a note telling them you are thinking of them, as well as of the person who died. It is always appropriate to write down a memory and give it to the family. You don't have to wait for a holiday to do so.

Also, remind the family of memories they have shared with you. Many bereaved people are fearful that their memories will fade away, so writing them down is a marvelous gift. You could use a holiday as an occasion to send any family pictures of the loved one that you might have. Do something in memory of the deceased (such as donating money or time to charity, buying a book on a subject they care about and donating it to the library, or planting a tree or garden) and tell the family about it. Let the family know that their loved one has a place in your life, too, and that you will never forget them or their loved one.

Rule #5:
Include bereaved people in invitations.

If you always invited them before, keep doing it. In your invitation, make it clear that you are aware that it might be hard for them to accept. Ask if you can do anything to make it easier for them. Ask if lighting a candle at a dinner party to represent the beloved person would be comforting.

Reassure the bereaved that you will not be hurt if they decline, but don't pre-decide for them that an occasion would be too difficult for them. Let them decide for themselves. If they decline, respect their decision, but don't stop inviting them. What is too difficult to do at two months might become do-able at eight months.

Rule #6:
Apply all of the above rules to anyone who had ever had a loss, no matter how long ago. It is never too late to start applying these rules.

Remember that love never dies, and the residual pain will never totally disappear. Last spring, I was at a PTA meeting where some moms were casually chatting about how difficult it was to schedule parent-teacher conferences when you have children at two schools. No one there seemed aware of the fact that I would love to have had their troubles. I was sad, angry and totally distanced from everyone in the room. It isn't that I didn't want them to talk about their children I just wanted to tell them, "If you do think of my loss, don't change the subject or ignore me. Acknowledge that the conversation made you think of Ellen, and you were wondering if I was thinking of her, too. Acknowledging my pain always causes it to melt away.

Silence is Not an Answer in the Time of Grief

by Elizabeth Cross McDonald

This summer I survived the two most devastating realities I have experienced since my father's death in 1980. The first was anguishing in its inevitability: my 31 year old brother's death from the cancer that stalked him for seven years. The second was worsened by its utter uselessness and avoidability: the deliberate way virtually every friend and acquaintance, save my very closest, has avoided and ignored me during this time of grief.

I do not believe that those who knew about Al's death did not worry about me and my family. It is likely that many were concerned. But I know that most of my friends are young, and have not yet had a close family member die. Death is scary or unreal, and few can envision themselves in the position I have been in twice. In a word, they are ignorant about my feelings and how to react to them.

A few of the braver approached me with hearty, superficial greetings that suggested my absence but not its cause: "Well hello, nice to see you back" or "So school's about to start, are you ready?" This was, for all its well meaning, very painful for me. I felt these people were using trivialities as a way of saying, "These things are more important than his death, and I'm more concerned about today's weather than how terrible you feel." With uneasy smiles on their faces, these people made me feel like a fool.

To a few, I said, "Perhaps you didn't know my brother died." The response was a muffled, "Oh, yes... I'm sorry." I stopped volunteering this information: it was awful to realize that these people, through all the banality, knew about Albert, and said nothing. Some people undoubtedly kept silent in the hopes that I would approach them to talk and they could then be duly supportive. This was a gross error of judgment. I needed to have friends voluntarily open their hearts in sympathy, as I was feeling vulnerable and afraid that those I turned to might turn me away. To me, the silence said, "Leave me alone, I don't care."

Still others made efforts to engage me in conversation, as long as I was able to be cheerful and not talk about Albert. To these people, my casual comment like, "Oh, I remember when Albert and I visited that person" was nervously ignored and met by an embarrassed silence. I needed to be able to remember my brother reflectively, without self-consciousness or shame. And even close friends could not understand that waves of grief, anger and depression affected me in ways I myself could not understand. How I needed their patience and support, their faith that I was angry at Death, and not at them.

My grief is now settling into the long depression that is a necessary step to healing. But every week, people on campus - maybe your friend or roommate - also face the unthinkable tragedy in a place where youth can lead people to feel immortal. These people need your support, and it's not hard to give it to them. If someone you know, whether closely or just vaguely, is bereaved, please don't be shy or afraid. Take the initiative, walk up, look into his or her eyes and say, "I am so sorry to hear about the death." (Only one person did this to me. Though I was not particularly close to him, his generosity moved me to tears.)

You need not give your philosophy on tragedy in life or your favorite remedy for depression. The bereaved person does not expect or want this. And if you consider yourself to be a close friend of the bereaved person, now is your chance to prove it. Listening - not avoiding the bereaved's sadness or being afraid to have the friend cry to you - is essential. If your friend does cry, consider yourself lucky that he or she is comfortable enough to share these deep emotions with you.

And don't try to stop the tears - they are also a step to healing and must flow freely. If you feel anger or hostility directed at you, take comfort that anger and grief are interconnected. The friend is not angry at you, it is simply his desperate attempt to justify or focus the waves of anger and desolation that surge uncontrollably through him.

If the bereaved are surrounded by people who care, the grieving process is made less bitter and devastating. Yet caring and concern for your friend is meaningless unless you directly tell her that you do care. I understand that Dad and Albert had no intention of abandoning me, that they left me through no power of their own. The intentions of my silent friends are much less clear. Remember this: Just say, "I heard, and I'm sorry."

Cendra (ken'dra) Lynn, Ph.D.
Rivendell Resources griefnet@rivendell.org
PO Box 3272 griefnet@ic.net
Ann Arbor, MI, 48106-3272 313 / 761-1960
Grace happens

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