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”
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 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?
Continue reading “Secondary Losses: Why Grief is So Hard & Lasts So Long”
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 term called “Disenfranchised Grief” and it can be used to describe any time a person’s loss is not being validated or substantiated by those closest to them.
This creates a real problem for the griever. Not only do they have to struggle with the loss, but if they feel they have to defend the depths and complexities of their sadness to those around them, they may feel even more isolated, confused and alone.
Though largely unspoken, there are rules in grieving, and judgments being made about how sad we should be and for how long based on a number of factors. They can include the relationship we had with the person who died, their age when they passed, and in what way (sudden vs. expected) they died.
Continue reading “Disenfranchised Grief: Stop Judging, Start Accepting”
While there are many signs and symptoms of grieving (see, “Allowing Grief to Run Its Course”) there is one that seems every griever has in common – difficulty sleeping. This can mean having trouble falling asleep, or being able to fall asleep but then waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to go back to sleep. It’s an especially frustrating symptom as a lack of sleep only serves to contribute to the weariness a griever is already feeling.
Grief is an exhausting process. A person who has lost a loved one will find their every waking moment filled with thoughts about their loss.
It can be in the form of questions….could I have done more? Or tried harder? Or saw a different doctor or sought treatment sooner? Or, what if I never let him leave the house that night? Should I have tried harder to get her to stop smoking? Or take better care of herself? Should I have seen the signs that he was doing so poorly?
Mixed in with the questions from the past, are the future worries. What comes next? Where will I go from here? How am I supposed to go on? How can I go to work and take care of the rest of my family now? Who is going to take care of me?
And finally, sleep can elude the griever as they find themselves consumed with the sights and sounds encountered leading up to their loved one’s death. Reliving what their loved one looked like in their final days, the sounds of their breathing or of their suffering. If the loss wasn’t following a long illness, the trauma can come from remembering the phone call that came, or the atmosphere of the hospital when they were told the news.
While these thoughts and worries exhaust the griever all day long, the night brings no respite. In fact, the quiet and lack of other distractions can mean that many people find themselves staring at a dark ceiling each night, as their body begs for sleep but their thoughts won’t allow it.
Problem is, a good night’s sleep is a crucial part of our well being, and as the mind and body try to heal from grief it is even more important. And yet, it is often overlooked as an important part of what it takes to help a griever begin to feel themselves again and move forward.
Continue reading “How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep when Grieving”
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”