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 →
When 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:
Continue reading Grief Roadblocks & How to Let Go of Tough Emotions →
In my personal and professional experience I have found that, overall, people like to help each other. It’s a general statement, but there are signs of it everywhere, and I think we find our true joy and purpose when we are helping another person. Not only is it the kindness we often get in return, but that feeling of having something to offer that makes it so great.
Most would assume this only happens when times are good. When our life is in order and everything is going well for us, only then are we able to look outside of ourselves to see if anyone else needs assistance.
But I find that’s not the case and I see examples of this in every group I facilitate, every interaction I have among grievers, and now through our site, www.griefincommon.com.
Because although this site was designed to be a place for grievers to come to get help, I see how often they are going there to give help. That may not be the intention and they may not even realize it, but those who are grieving are each others’ greatest teachers.
Continue reading Advice from a Griever: How to Survive a Loss in the New Year →
While we spend time this holiday season online and in stores trying to find just the right gift for our family and friends, we may find there is a certain emptiness to it.
In most cases, the grief tends to fog our view of the joy so many others are feeling. But perhaps another reason is because we know that the best gifts we can give and receive are those that can’t be bought.
Whether we want the holidays to take place or not, eventually the day and the time will come to “celebrate”. With most businesses, shops and restaurants closed, and the majority of people off work, a griever may find that without the distractions or obligations of a normal routine there is too much time, and too much quiet.
I always say spending too much time in our own head can be a bad place to be, and this can be especially true for a griever. It’s why the nights and weekends can be so hard – when things slow down, and the quiet that comes invites a chance for deeper and darker thoughts.
While the holidays are a very sad and challenging time, the stillness and quiet can also create an opportunity for a different type of reflection.
Continue reading Holiday Reflections on the Gifts We Have Received →
I was going to start this article explaining why it was being written. Something like, “For most of us, throughout our lives, we anticipate the arrival of the holidays with joy and excitement. The frenzy of parties and shopping, of baking, decorating and spending time with family- but for the griever, this excitement is replaced with a sense of dread.”
But you know this already.
Most people I speak with say, “I wish we could just fast forward to January 2” and view the holidays as no longer something to look forward to, but a looming date on the calendar that is filled with fear and despair.
Assuming we don’t have a time machine or the ability to hibernate through a tough winter season, how do we get through this very difficult time of year?
Continue reading Grief & the Holidays: Caring for You →
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?
Continue reading Grief in the Age of Gratitude. →
One of the best things about participating in a grief support group is the relief that comes at the realization that, finally, “I’m not alone”. There are others who can relate and who understand.
Knowing that you’re not “crazy”, and that other people have shared the same thoughts, and acted in similar ways. This safe haven where everyone else nods in agreement as you tell your story–what’s happened, where you are now, and as you wonder, what comes next?
With the right group and the right facilitator a grief support group can be one of the safest and most comfortable places to be.
And while I spend so much of my time encouraging people to participate in a group for just that reason there’s a second part of this that’s all very important to ask – what happens when we leave the cozy space of the group?
Continue reading Grief Support: “I Want You to Know…” →
There is a pretty well-accepted theory on grieving that the first year is the hardest. The loss is so new, the first months can be spent in a blur of shock and disbelief.
This can be especially true for a sudden loss, but can surprise people when they are in “shock” even after a loved one has died following a long and drawn out illness.
I’ve said it many times: nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can prepare us for the finality of death.
Navigating that first year, through anniversaries, birthdays and holidays can feel endless. But the assumption for most is that as long as they can get through that, it should be smoother sailing in the days ahead.
And then year 2 happens.
Continue reading Grieving in the Second Year After a Loss →
We are born selfish. The only thing that matters to us in our earliest days is being fed, sleeping when we need it, and being comforted when we want it.
When we’re a little older, and we begin walking and talking and interacting with others, some of this starts to change. We’re expected to be patient, to share with friends, and to use our manners.
As time passes, expectations grow. Hold the door for others before you walk in. Don’t eat until everyone has been served. We are taught that others’ needs come before our own.
With maturity, in marriage and with parenting, the sacrifices continue. How quickly we go from “what do you want to be when you grow up?” to learning how to forfeit our interests for the sake of others. It seems that to be a “good” adult we must recognize that what we want isn’t always the primary concern.
Of course there’s a need for this. To be part of a society and to get along with others, we do need to learn some of these “rules” of benevolence.
But, oh, how quickly we lose the balance. And nothing is a greater example of this than the caregiver.
Continue reading Caregiver No More →