Trauma & Grief: 5 Things That May Help

TraumaBy now, most people are familiar with what PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is. For the longest time, I only heard it used to reference the trauma that a soldier faces in battle…the unimaginable loss and horrors of war, and all of the things that can’t be unseen.

But as I worked with more and more grievers I found their stories were filled with trauma from the loss of someone they loved. Some were the obvious traumas of sudden and devastating loss, but others followed long-term illness after witnessing the slow, sad, and painful decline of a loved one.

So while PTSD is rightfully designated to those who have been to war, so too should those who have lost a loved one be recognized as survivors of trauma. After all, what could be more traumatic than losing the people we love more than anything in the world?

It’s worth discussing in terms of validating and normalizing this response to loss: what are some of the ways people can be traumatized by the loss of a loved one, and what can be done to help?
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Why Support Falls Short for the Bereaved

(And Why The Bereaved Should Seek Support Anyway)

When I first began working with the newly bereaved, I was surprised to find how many people who came to a support group would say that, overall, they had a mostly supportive network of family and friends at home.

Bereaved

How could this be? I wondered. Why would anyone seek additional help, or choose to confide in a group of strangers if the support they needed was already in place?

Because it wasn’t enough.

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Dealing With Loss: One “You Should” At a Time

Dealing with loss is something that happens to all of us at one point or another, yet no two people do it the same. Different backgrounds, timelines, beliefs…even the coping skills and support system a griever has (or doesn’t have) can determine how they will handle dealing with loss.

Dealing With Loss

But in the days, weeks and months after a loved one has died, a griever may find themselves bombarded with questions, ideas and suggestions, as friends,  family, co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances try to offer support or advice.

So let me start by saying that I believe that, in general, people are well-intentioned. Whether that’s actually true or not, I find one of the most peaceful ways to get along in this world is to assume that no one is actually setting out to hurt me or upset me. Can people be misguided in their attempts at help? Absolutely. But are they looking to make things worse or cause more harm? I’d like to think, usually not.

“Should” is a word that a griever may hear more than any other (followed very closely by the word “shouldn’t”).

Why? The people in the lives of a griever often feel helpless. Most of us are no match for these devastating losses and many struggle to find a way to be helpful. Telling a griever what helped them (or their mom, or their neighbor) feel better, and what they therefore “should” do to feel better themselves, may be the only tool the people in the lives of the griever feel they have to offer.

Here’s some examples of the “should”s you may have heard or will hear:

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Grief Lessons: 10 Things You Never Wanted to Learn

Grief is the person we never wanted to meet. The class we didn’t sign up for. The club we never wanted to join. The journey we never wanted to take.

Grief

And while grief can be one of life’s most impactful teachers, most grievers would say they are experiencing and learning things they hoped they would never have to know:

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The Role of Forgiveness as a Tool for Healing

A strange thing happened during my first three Grief Coaching calls this week. One after another, I found myself returning to the same advice. These were three different grievers with three vastly different losses, backgrounds, and circumstances, and yet one big commonality among them: an inability to let go of a guilt or anger they were holding in relation to their loss. Were they to be stuck in this place forever, or was there something that could take some of this pain and hurt away? My answer each time: forgiveness.

Forgiveness

Although the majority of my coaching is done over the phone I can still tell when something I’ve said causes a griever to shift uncomfortably in their seat, and this word, this topic, seemed to do just that.

Why? Because forgiveness is too big an ideal. Either too spiritual a notion or something reserved only for the mortal saints, most of the regular every day people I speak with just don’t think they are able capable of forgiveness when something is so awful.

But why the resistance to forgiveness, and can it actually help in grief?
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Apathy: When No Feeling is the Hardest of All

Apathy. I often write about different emotions in this blog. Grief is so complicated and the anger, guilt, sadness, yearning, questions and confusion that come with it can make it an endless cycle of feeling. Grief can hurt so much because never have we felt so much. There can be a sense that suddenly we’ve been turned inside out, so that we’re made of nothing but nerves that can be pinched at any moment, even by the slightest trigger.

Apathy

But grief is constantly changing shape, and for some grievers, at some point in their journey comes an entirely new feeling…and what’s so scary about it? That in some ways it’s not feeling at all.

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Carrying Grief – Why It Doesn’t Always Get Easier

GriefThe other day I spoke with a  widow who I have been grief coaching. It’s been over two years since her husband died. That means she’s been through multiple birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgivings. And like most widows she would say…she’s gotten through them. She didn’t always know if she could but she did, and that’s the best she could do. But lately, she said, the grief feels a little worse. A little harder. She’s crying more, yearning more, feeling more frustrated, lost, and lonely.

And she just couldn’t get it. Why, after all this time and all she’s been through and all she’s been able to accomplish, why would the grief be worse now?

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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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