“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”.
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?
Continue reading Unconditional Love, Unconditional Grief →
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.
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:
Continue reading Avoiding Grief: Why It Doesn’t Work →
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?
Continue reading Feeling Lonely & Isolated in Grief →
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.
Continue reading Loneliness: 5 “Don’ts” If You’re Lonely After 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?
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.
Continue reading Sudden Loss: 5 Ways it Differs from Expected Loss →
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.
Here are 5 things NOT to say to someone who is grieving:
Continue reading 5 Things NOT to Say to Someone Who is Grieving →
If 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?
Continue reading Dating After the Loss of a Spouse →
I 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:
Continue reading 10 Things Only a Griever Understands →
After 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?
Continue reading Coping with the Loss of a Parent →
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:
- tirelessly and selflessly care for a loved one for months and years on end
- put aside all needs and wants, plans and prospects
- feel tired and overwhelmed, yet grateful at the same time
- immediately replace occasional feelings of resentment, with guilt
- do this for as long as needed, until it is no longer needed
- 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.
Continue reading Caring for a Loved One: The Letter Every Caregiver Should Write →