In Grief, Is Being Happy Really the Goal?

“I just want to be happy…”

Happy

How many times have we said this in life? Before loss, when someone asks what we want, or how we picture our future as it lays out in front of us, how many of us have said, “I just want to be happy”. What’s strange is that in some ways it’s such a big request, and yet in the simpler times it doesn’t feel like we’re asking for much at all. It’s not like we’re expecting to be ecstatically happy each and every day, just a consistent and stable amount of contentment. That’s all…

And then someone we love dies.

Suddenly, being happy, being content, or even feeling “just” a quiet sense of peace seems to be completely out of reach and not attainable at all. Yet, it’s what many friends and family will say to the griever: “I just want you to be happy again”.

As well intentioned as this simple statement is (and I will always err on the side of believing in a person’s good intentions) I think it can leave the griever with two very distinct feelings.

#1 – yeah, I’d like to be happy again too

AND

#2 – I can’t imagine ever being happy again

It speaks to a bigger issue and somewhere along the way I think we may all be missing the mark. As a griever looks ahead, and takes the steps to move forward, don’t we need to stop and think about whether being happy should really be the goal at all?

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Hygge & Grief: Coping Through the Long Hard Winter

Grieving in winter is no easy thing, and for those of us who live in the cold and snowy parts of the country, we may dread the forced isolation winter weather brings. The Danish (who themselves can suffer very long and dark winters) have adopted an idea that I think could apply well to those who are grieving this time of year. It’s called hygge.

Hygge

The origin of the word is disputed, but most agree that it’s derived from a Danish word meaning, “to give courage and comfort”. Some say it’s simply rooted in the word “hug”.

Whatever the origin, the idea behind hygge is simple. Rather than dreading the cold winter days, we view this as a time of respite and relaxation instead. Cozy blankets, fuzzy socks, fireplaces, dim lights, and mugs of tea so big you need both hands to hold them…these are some of the images that come to mind when Danes are describing hygge.

Now to the griever feeling just a bit raw, this may all sound a little too cute, like something you’d see in the pages of “Country Living” magazine (in fact I’m pretty sure I did see an article about hygge there at one time). So why and how would this apply to grief?

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“Owed to My Mother” ~A Personal Account

Every now and then we receive requests to contribute stories from those who have sustained a loss. It’s what our forums, “See and Share Stories” are all about. Because the act of sharing a grief story can help the teller as much as it does the person hearing it. “Owed to my Mother” is a new book based on Nadine Keahon’s journey leading up to and following the loss of her own mother.

Mother

There are a lot of books on grief and loss, but this one has a different take. Instead of a self-help model, this book is written as historical fiction, to help make it both relatable and readable.

In mid-2004, Nadine, a self-confessed workaholic, received a promotion that felt like she had achieved the pinnacle of her career. But a month into this new role, she found out her mother had stage 4 cancer. Nadine was forced to choose between her career and her family. In her first book, Owed to My Mother, Nadine chronicles the story that unfolds from there—with heartfelt humor, sarcasm, and love.

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Need Help with Your Grief? Try this

There’s a lot of great articles out there about how to help a loved one through grief…unfortunately they will only be found by the friends and family who search for them.

help

I think it’s important to remember, that while there’s a lot of people who want to help and be supportive, a loved one’s grief can make them feel so helpless they are practically paralyzed by it. Meaning the very helpful advice that’s out there may never actually make it to them. Perhaps because they assume it’s too far out of their power to help.

That’s why when it comes to getting the grief support that you want, it may mean having to tell others what you need. I say this to a lot to grievers and I’m often met with at least some resistance. “Me?”, a griever may ask, “I have to help other people help me?”.

The answer is yes…sort of.

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On Grief: 5 Things only the Newly Bereaved Understand

There is so much information available on grief. So many opinions, ideas, and tips for coping. It can be overwhelming for the griever and especially for those with a very recent loss.

on grief

I have been surprised recently just how many newly bereaved are reaching out, looking for help, joining our site, and looking for more direction on grief and how to cope. And when I say “newly bereaved” I mean, really new…some people with a loss that happened only a few days before.

While it’s encouraging that people are recognizing so early the need for support, I find this is such a strange and confusing time for the griever. Grief is already such a very foreign journey to take and those with a new loss have barely had their passports stamped before they’re expected to be fluent in the culture and language of loss.

Whether you are the newly bereaved trying to make your way, or a loved one trying to help, on grief I think most people with a recent loss would say the following…

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Caring for Children After Loss

Some people are always caring for others, in one way or another. And for most parents, grandparents, and caregivers, there is no greater joy than taking care of those we love. But this (like so many other things) can change after loss, and this seems especially true for those caring for children.

Caring

I had a woman tell me recently that she was struggling to parent her toddler following the loss of her spouse. She was afraid that she had been crying too much, that she was scattered, preoccupied…that she just wasn’t herself.

Now it’s easy for me to validate this experience and tell her that of course she is struggling, how could she not be? But it wouldn’t necessarily help guide her in what direction to take next, and let’s face it – of all the things we don’t want to “mess up” after loss, parenting (or even grandparenting) may be the most important.

A lot of articles that talk about children and grief focus on what the kids’ needs are, and of course those are very important (click here for more resources on kids and grief). But I’m a firm believer that for kids to be okay, they need the adults in their life to guide them. So how to guide and care for a child when you’re grieving and barely able to get by? Some ideas and thoughts below:

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Shattered Expectations: Why Grief is So Hard, Part II

Expectations.

ExpectationsA few years back I wrote about “Secondary Losses” as a way to explain why grief is so hard, and why it lasts so long. The question every griever seems to ask themselves at one point or another is, why am I still struggling? Besides missing a person who was loved and lost, and besides all those things we have lost along with them, when we have adjusted a bit and maybe even adapted a bit, why is it still SO hard?

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The Language of Grief

The Language of Grief: Changing the Way We Talk and Think About Loss

Grief

Words matter. What we say, how we say it, and who we say it to matters, because those around us can be greatly impacted by the language we use and the words we choose to communicate with.

It’s what we teach our children at the very earliest stages of their development and something that is reinforced for years to come, as we go through school, manage our personal relationships and develop our professional lives.

What we don’t often get taught, and something that doesn’t get the same amount of time or attention, are the words we choose when speaking to ourselves and what words thread the fabric of our thoughts as we weave them.

Perhaps it’s because the words that go through our head don’t feel thought out at all. Like a stream of consciousness, most of what we think is automatic and becomes the background noise of our day-to-day lives.

This is bad news for most of us. Because for most people, and for the griever especially, so much of what’s going on in our heads is negative. Worry, anger, sadness, second-guessing, self doubt…

I’ve learned many things in working with those who have lost a loved one, but something that stands out is this: grief has its own language.

There are words, and especially phrases, so commonly used by those who are grieving…and while they are not unique to those who have had a loss, the meaning behind them is special and needs to be paid attention to.

When speaking to grievers about moving forward after the loss of a loved one (a goal most bereaved, in one way or another, share) I most often hear the following:

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No Time to Grieve: Can we be too busy for grief?

GrieveThese days everyone is busy. Ask anyone you haven’t seen in awhile how they’ve been and they’re likely to answer, “busy!”. This won’t be a surprise to most, but something that I didn’t expect in the midst of our very busy lives is how many newly bereaved people I’ve met who are (or think they are) just too busy to grieve.

Let’s face it, for some, taking the time to grieve and find support may feel like a luxury or indulgence. It may even go so far as to feel like self-indulgence, or extravagance. With life moving so fast and so many other things to do, and in most cases, so many other people to take care of, does every mourner truly have the chance, or give themselves the chance and time they need to grieve?

The reasons someone may not allow themselves time to grieve are varied and numerous- and they may not always be what you’d think:

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Abusing Alcohol After Loss

Abusing Alcohol After Loss: How Self-Medicating Hinders Healing

Abusing AlcoholIn the very early days of loss, many grievers will describe feeling as if they’re in a constant fog or haze. A fog so thick that it can bundle several weeks or months into one big blur. And as terrible as that may sound, the lifting of this fog can create a stark reality so blinding it can be almost impossible to bear. It’s the reason so many grievers will describe their grief as getting worse as time passes. While we expect time to be a healer, those who have had a loss will usually find they are struggling more as the weeks and months go by.

The timing is misaligned in every way. Just as the support is slowing down,  as friends and family are checking in less and expecting the griever to be doing better, the weight, reality, and magnitude of loss is just starting to sink in.

It’s about this time when a griever begins to wonder what now and what comes next. Who am I and where do I go from here?

Deciding to self medicate isn’t usually a “decision” at all. For many it’s something that just sort of happens. A glass of wine after dinner, a drink out with a friend. The softening of the hard edges of grief, the numbness…for some it may just be too hard to resist.

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