Unconditional Love, Unconditional Grief

“It would seem that there are no bad marriages in a grief group.” That’s what one griever said to me after attending her first bereavement group following the loss of her spouse.  “I know I didn’t talk much, but I was having a hard time relating to what everyone was saying. I miss my husband, and I am feeling very lost without him. But listening to everyone else’s grief made me feel like the only one who didn’t have a picture-perfect marriage”.Grief

I asked her to stick with the group, to give it another try. First impressions are important, but it could have been the group was feeling particularly sad that day and choosing to highlight the good times they shared with their spouse.

This widow did come back and soon became very comfortable with the group. But her words stuck with me throughout the years and I couldn’t help but notice what she had pointed out- the tendency in grief to put our lost loved ones and our relationships on a pedestal.

So why do we do this, and could this “best of” version make the grief more pronounced?

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Avoiding Grief: Why It Doesn’t Work

No one wants to be sad. In fact, we spend a good part of our life in the general pursuit of happiness, doing anything we can to avoid sadness, heartache, discomfort and pain. That is, until someone we love dies. And suddenly, not only does happiness feel so far out of reach, we may find ourselves actively (if not always consciously) avoiding grief.

Avoiding Grief

The thing is, it’s not just about losing someone we love. This was someone we counted on. This was the one who helped us make decisions, or who supported us no matter what we did. This was someone who knew us like no one else, and who loved us anyway. Someone who was such a part of our daily life, that when their life ended, our life feels like it ended too.

So who would want to think about that? With so much lost and so much sadness, isn’t avoiding grief, or at least trying desperately to push down or push away the overwhelming emotions, the only thing that would make sense?

Of course there is the other end of the spectrum – those people who feel a prisoner to the grieving thoughts. Who would welcome some avoidance, or even just a short respite from the grief, if only they knew how.

Somewhere between avoidance and floundering there could be a place that allows a griever to sit with their grief without being totally and completely swept away by it.

But before we get to that, let’s look at some of the ways people may be avoiding grief and why it doesn’t work:

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Loneliness: 5 “Don’ts” If You’re Lonely After Loss

Loneliness

The 5 Stages of Grief (as originally established by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) may be one of the most widely sited tools of grief- it’s also one of the more misunderstood and questioned. These days, experts in the field of grief and loss hesitate to offer anything that resembles a timeline for fear that it creates unrealistic expectations for how a griever “should” cope. And with good reason. Grief is too individual and too different from one person to the next. Yet, as the stages of grief suggest, there are commonalities found amongst grievers and if I were to add one final stage, I would add loneliness to the list.

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Delayed Grief: When Grief Gets Worse

Delayed grief

Delayed grief…some grievers may wonder why they’re starting to experience their grief more intensely when it’s been several years since their loss. Rather than feeling they are getting “better”, they may find that they are crying more, withdrawing from friends and family, and perhaps feeling even less accepting of what’s happened.

How can this be? With more time to process, more time to experience life without a loved one, and more time to re-learn what this new life looks like…why would it suddenly feel like it’s harder to cope? And is it normal?

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Sudden Loss: 5 Ways it Differs from Expected Loss

There’s never a good time or good way to lose someone we love, but if we experience the sudden loss of a loved one…is it harder?

Sudden Loss
I shy away from this type of debate in the groups that I run. While validating a griever’s loss is one of the most important things a group can offer, a challenge of who is having it harder – or who is hurting more because of the way they lost their loved one – is not.
There are a lot of grief articles out there that discuss the difficulties of caregiving or losing a loved one to long term illness like cancer, and while this writing will not answer the question of what’s harder it will ask…is it different? And the answer is: absolutely.

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5 Things NOT to Say to Someone Who is Grieving

 

Only 5 you may be thinking? Because if you ask anyone who has recently lost a loved one, what are five things they’ve heard that have been unhelpful, misguided or just downright hurtful you’d find they could probably give you a hundred. 

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Here are 5 things NOT to say to someone who is grieving:

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Dating After the Loss of a Spouse

Dating After the Loss of a SpouseIf there is one issue that can create division, and even anger, in a room full of widows and widowers, it’s the topic of dating after the loss of a spouse. Of all the subjects in all the groups that I’ve ever facilitated, this may be the most controversial.

For some, just the mention of dating again can cause such a negative and visceral reaction -I’ve seen grievers walk out of presentations where this topic was only one small part of the conversation.

But why the strong reaction? Does it a feel like a sense of betrayal to the deceased? Or of being rushed into something we’re not ready for? Is just the thought of having to start over, to put ourselves out there just too overwhelming or too exhausting? Is it that the endeavor seems worthless as there will simply never EVER be someone as perfect for us as the partner we lost?

And is it fair that a griever has to cope with this tremendous grief while also answering questions from family and friends about whether they plan to date again? Or is it fair that a griever may face judgement from those who think that they aren’t ready to date or believe they shouldn’t?

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Coping with the Loss of a Parent

Loss of a parentAfter the loss of a parent, especially one who may have lived to a more advanced age, there often follows predictable attempts at comfort: “He lived a good life” or “It’s the natural order of things” or, “You were lucky to have him for so long”.

I was guilty of this. In my early days of making phone calls as a bereavement coordinator, I’ll admit to creating expectations of how the griever on the other end of the phone would respond, based on the age of the person they lost. I’ll never forget calling the daughter of a woman who had just lost her mom on Hospice. Mom had been 101 at the time of her passing. 101! Meaning the daughter had to be in her 70’s or 80’s. This was a “child” who had very possibly lost her father, friends and peers, or even her own spouse. Perhaps she had her own health issues that were serious enough to have her concerned about her own life and mortality. Surely this woman, of all the calls I would make that day, would be the person who would say, “we’re doing okay. Mom was 101, we’re just glad we had her so long”.

But, boy, was I wrong. What I expected to be a quick call turned into a long call, that lead to a visit, which lead to this woman coming to our groups to  talk about the very painful loss of her mom. “It sounds crazy, but she lived such a long time I just assumed she’d be around forever” she told me that day. And I quickly realized that at her own “advanced” age of 79, this daughter was going to need to relearn her life and what it was going to be like to not have her mother in it.

So never again. Never again have I made an assumption about how a person should respond when a loved one has died, and never again would I assume that any part of grief or loss can be easy.

I’ve facilitated a group for those facing the loss of a parent (or both parents) for several years. And one thing I find that most every person who attends has in common?

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Grief Roadblocks & How to Let Go of Tough Emotions

shutterstock_222258445When we lose someone we love, we expect to feel sad. Even years before their passing if we took a moment to contemplate what life would be like without them, we could have correctly predicted the sadness and heartache their absence would bring. The reality of grief, however, is so much more complex, and filled with so many tough emotions and “grief roadblocks” that even the most astute could never foresee.

A “grief roadblock” refers to any of the tough and complicated emotions that stand in the way of our path to healthy grieving. These emotions- like anger, guilt and regret- are very often responsible for leaving a person in a grief limbo and halting their ability to move forward.

While anger, guilt and regret are very different emotions, what it takes to move through and push past them is actually quite similar.

Before discussing how to cope with grief roadblocks, it’s worth mentioning that all of this is very “normal”. Not normal for you maybe, and certainly not pleasant, or comfortable. But getting “stuck” at some point along the grief journey is very common and very much to be expected. These emotions will manifest themselves differently for everyone, but here are some examples of what blocks the griever:

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Sad vs. Suicidal: “Normal” vs. Complicated Grief

lonely-ghost-man-1142299-1279x852When the grieving say that they don’t want to be “here” anymore you may wonder…what is the difference between being sad and being suicidal, or “normal” vs. complicated grief? Is it normal for someone who has lost a loved one to say (or think) that they don’t want to live anymore? That they not only can’t imagine a life without the person they’ve lost, but that they’re not at all interested in finding out?

Trying to assess what’s “normal” in grieving or whether a person is truly suicidal is no easy task, even for a trained professional.

You may be worried about a friend or loved one or you may be concerned for yourself. In trying to make this determination and whether more help is needed, consider the following:

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