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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Feeling Lonely & Isolated in Grief

It’s not uncommon to feel isolated in grief. Does the grief push people away, or is the griever making a “choice” to remove themselves from friends, family, or even society in general? Like most things, the answer is probably a little of both, or something right in the middle. But why does this happen? Why would people leave us to suffer alone, or why would we prefer to go into seclusion after loss?

Isolated

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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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10 Things Only a Griever Understands

griever understandsI once met a woman who used the word “civilians” to describe those who had not experienced the significant loss of a loved one. The griever, she said, has been in the trenches, endured the battle up close…has seen and heard things that can’t be unseen or unheard and often suffers from the post trauma stress that can haunt long after a loss. For me the analogy worked, and it’s one I come back to often when explaining to a bereavement group that there’s certain things only a griever understands.

It’s also what I find brings so many people to seek help outside of their circle of family and friends. Perhaps in the past we would turn to the ones who know us best when struggling with the trials and challenges of life. But everything changes after a significant loss, and especially in the early days, there is no change more evident than in the griever themselves.

Maybe this is why the bereaved seek out others who have not only had a loss, but who have experienced a loss similar to their own. At a time when there is so much uncertainty and so few things that make sense, there is an opportunity for support, validation, and camaraderie when grievers make connections and feel understood.

Everything that connected us to our network before – our shared interests, hobbies, beliefs, or even the bonds of time and relationship – will not seem to matter as much in loss. The griever wants to talk with those who get it. Because while so much of this experience is foreign to the griever, it may seem even stranger still to the “civlian”.

With that in mind, here are 10 things only the griever understands:

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Caring for a Loved One: The Letter Every Caregiver Should Write

 

Life doesn’t come with a manual, and neither does caring for a loved one who is dying. And yet so many caregivers I’ve met follow such a similar pattern of behavior, it would almost seem that instructions had been written for them to follow.

It goes a little something like this:

  1. tirelessly and selflessly care for a loved one for months and years on end
  2. put aside all needs and wants, plans and prospects
  3. feel tired and overwhelmed, yet grateful at the same time
  4. immediately replace occasional feelings of resentment, with guilt
  5. do this for as long as needed, until it is no longer needed
  6. use newfound abundance of time following loved one’s loss to second guess and question every choice made while caring for loved one; cycle with guilt and regret indefinitely

Sound familiar? It’s human nature of course, to doubt and second guess ourselves when big things happen in our life, and to think maybe we could have done more, or perhaps we should have done something different.

But caregivers seem to do this at a whole different level. Maybe it’s because the choices they make are so big. Perhaps it’s because their end result (the loss of their loved one) is always a bad one.

What I do know is that hindsight is 20/20. Cliched maybe, but true. And the problem is that without realizing it, we take what we know now and apply it to what happened then.

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Secondary Losses: Why Grief is So Hard & Lasts So Long

secondary lossesI find that most grievers are surprised by their grief. By the depth of it, the longevity of it, and the inflexibility of it.

On the one hand it seems obvious why we suffer so intensely after someone we love has died. The absence of someone who played such a significant role in our lives is going to leave a void that no one and nothing can fill. As time passes and we expect to be feeling better, we  instead face a daily assault of reminders that can trigger harsh and violent waves of grief that may sometimes be just too much to bear.

But why? Why, when we feel we’re working so hard, and getting the support, and being patient and taking the time to grieve – why do we still face this daily hurt that cuts so deep, and why does it continue to happen even as the months and years pass by?

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Grief in the Age of Gratitude.

grief gratitude

Gratitude.

Such a simple idea… slowing down, taking stock of our lives, making the choice to focus on the good we have, and spending less time searching and yearning for what we don’t. Pausing in nature, taking more time with our kids, realizing that we ALREADY have everything we need…to me, the idea of finding gratitude in everyday life was such a simple but game changing goal.

And then suddenly, it was everywhere. In hashtags, and mommy blogs, in commercials, in the stores, suddenly everyone was being told: be thankful for what you have (and what they don’t say: be thankful for what you have, no matter what that is).

Still sounds okay, right? What could be wrong with encouraging this shift in so many people’s way of thinking?
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