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”
Here’s what you don’t expect when suffering with the grief of losing someone you love; that suddenly the majority of the people you spend time with (family, friends, coworkers) are afraid of you.
“Afraid of me?”, you wonder, because really, what is more frail or feeble, than a person in the throes of grief?
It may not appear that they are afraid of you. In fact, it’s likely they don’t realize it themselves.
But consider this: prior to the loss of your loved one you may have felt that you had a mostly supportive group of friends and family. And I think for most, our hope is that when bad things happen in life, it’s going to be those closest friends and family who will be there to support us.
And then…surprise! We lose a loved one, and suddenly the network of people we can turn to shrinks.
How could that be? Don’t they know that their support is needed now more than ever? What could possibly make it so that the people we care about retreat at the time when we need them most?
Continue reading “Your Grief is Terrifying to Those Around You”
Most of the grief articles and forums I see are dedicated to the loss of a beloved family member. Stories, poems and tributes to the loss of a loved one that are filled with declarations and promises of a love that will never be forgotten.
It’s easy from this to assume that every person lost is being mourned by a person they had a long, loving and meaningful relationship with. Even within bereavement groups it can be assumed that people will only take the time to attend and to grieve for someone they loved and will miss.
But grief, like life and our relationships themselves, can be much more complicated than that.
Continue reading “Grieving the Relationship That Never Was”
When you gather a group of people who have lost a loved one, one topic that inevitably comes up is what to do with their “stuff”: clothes, medicine, eyeglasses…
You can split a room on this topic. One half who are holding on tight to their loved one’s belongings, keeping the toothbrush where it was left, shoes where they were taken off, and medications on the counter top.
The other half says they have a hard time looking at these belongings, as they feel they are a constant and sad reminder of the person who is no longer here. I remember a man telling me that he re-painted the entire inside of his house, simply to cover over and remove the pain he felt in looking at the colors and decorations his wife had chosen.
There’s no right or wrong answer in this debate (See our previous article on “Shoulds” if you need a reminder of that).
But what happens when it’s not so simple, and you’re finding it difficult to move forward. Let’s say you have cleaned out a bit by donating eyeglasses, throwing out those things that held little sentimental value, and giving away old clothes to family who wanted them.
If you shared a home with the person who has died- slept in the same bed, sat at a kitchen table with them each day, had “your” seats in the living room when you watched TV together- how do you handle being in those places without them?
Continue reading “If You Can’t Stand To Look At The Empty Chair – Sit In It”
When speaking with a person who has recently lost a loved one to a long illness, I often hear them say “I’m just relieved that she’s gone.”
And this statement is almost certainly followed with something like: “It’s just that she was suffering for such a long time. I love my mom, but for those last few years she wasn’t herself. She had no quality of life and I know she would not have wanted to live that way.…”
The fact is that relief is a complicated emotion when coupled with grieving.
Continue reading “The Guilt of Relief”
Welcome. You have just been enrolled in a class that you didn’t want to join, where you will learn things you had hoped you would never have to know.
There is no teacher, no textbooks and no timeline for when the class will end.
This knowledge and this experience will make you a stranger to those who know you. You’ll feel like a stranger to yourself. You are a student of your grief and there is so much for you to learn.
When dealing with grief, you’ll be expected to master a number of skills in a short period of time:
Continue reading “10 Skills For Dealing with Grief”
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”