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Archive for the ‘Grief Theories’ Category

I had someone leave me a question on the Ask Here tab of the website.

The person who wrote shared the story of having a friend that they loved very much who died very quickly after a cancer diagnosis.  Priscilla, the writer, wants to know if it is normal that she still misses her friend and has periods of actively grieving.  She wonders what might be wrong since other friends don’t seem like they are still hurting.  And she wanted to know if there was something that she could do…

Priscilla,

Thanks for leaving me a question.  It sounds like your loss was really unexpected and you had little time to come to terms with your friend’s diagnosis and death.

I used to hear the debate in my grief groups, as I would be walking into the group room from locking the front door… which is worse, a sudden death and the loss that accompanies it or the slow declining death of someone and that loss?

Honestly, loss is loss and it hurts to the very depth of our soul.  We will react to different losses in different ways but being bereft, although the second thing that we all have in common, is still one of our most painful and life altering experiences.

A lot of people in our society think that there is some set amount of time that a person has to grieve.  Apparently businesses think three days away from work is plenty of time to get funeral arrangements made, cope with the loss, and come back to work with a stiff upper lip.

Many in the field of grief will tell you that 6-12 months and you should be spending more time in the “living” process than in the world of grief.

What I can tell you is what I have experienced and what I have been honored to witness in clients, friends, and family. . .

Grief takes as long as it does.  Depending on your relationship, that whole in your heart my be painful until the day you die.

Grief takes on different characteristics over time, sometimes feeling like a stabbing pain, sometimes like a dull headache, sometimes like the darkest hours before dawn, and sometimes the murky twilight when nothing seems real.

And it’s okay that you are still grieving for your friend two years later.  For some of us, friends are the family that we’ve gotten to choose.. we’ve brought them into our lives and our hearts and they have a special meaning that no one can replace.

Have some compassion for yourself for having loved someone so deeply.  Isn’t that what loss is?  Our learning to live without someone being here to hug, call, laugh with, sit and be silly with?

For me, the first year after my brother’s death was painful.  Six months after he died, I went away to graduate school, still stunned and in a fog from two years of caregiving with my parents.

But it was in the second year, when we were sitting in my little basement apartment, away from our family and friends at the holidays that I felt like my heart was ripped out.

We were together, my parents and I… but I was longing to think .. is this going to be his last holiday?  What’s life going to be like without him.. as I had thought for several years…

I longed to feel that kind of pain though I would not have wanted him back in the agony that his life was.

When I went to work for hospice, 7 years after his death, I struggled.  I finally had a community around me, people that I trusted with my grief and pain, and it was a tough anniversary to go through… it was also a few months after my friend and mentor died as well and there was no way that those two losses were not interconnected in a variety of ways in my heart.

The point is that we change, evolve, and grow with time.  Our grief changes during that time too.

With every year that passes, there is more and more certainty that it’s not a dream and we can’t just wish things to be different.

As we find healing in one area, we find that we have the ability to take on a new painful part of the grief and work on healing that.  This new pain may have been there since the loss but we have a way of prioritizing what we can and cannot handle, mostly on an unconscious level.

So, not that you asked for advice per se, but what I would like to offer is:

Take time to touch that gentle tender point in the center of your chest that might be aching for your friend.

Acknowledge the pain as it comes up

Love that he/she meant that much that you still hurt

Find comfort in your memories

Allow what is to be and don’t push away the pain.

And don’t let anyone tell you that you’ve been grieving too long.

If you are able to get out of bed, take care of your kids, go to work, make sure that you are eating, etc than just be gentle with yourself.

If you are finding that you are having a really difficult time dealing with day-to-day things, then see if your local hospice has a support group or counselor.

If you feel like harming yourself, get in to see a doctor.

Most of us will not have the last two experiences, but if you are, know that there is help.

Shame and guilt only make our grief worse so if possible, make a point to acknowledge that grief hurts and you are okay for hurting.

Love takes a time to build.  And loss takes a lifetime to heal from.  Know that you are forever changed by the experience of having had this friend in your life and having lost them.

Be gentle with yourself Priscilla, allow yourself to grieve as the thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with the grief arise.

Related articles

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Kenneth Doka coined the term “disenfranchised grief” and there are probably fewer grievers that are more disenfranchised than those who have lost someone to suicide.

Disenfranchised grief occurs when a loss occurs and something about it isn’t socially sanctioned. . .

For instance, many who lost partners to HIV/AIDS back in the 80s and 90s would be considered disenfranchised grievers — people may not have been “out” about their sexuality or the nature of their relationship.  And at the time, HIV/AIDS was a death sentence.

When a person loses a best friend or a more distant relative, like an aunt or a cousin, a person can be considered disenfranchised.

Think about it. . . maybe your mom’s best friend took care of you after your parent’s died.  There is no bereavement time off when this best friend later dies and you have to try to explain it to them at work.  This person maybe the closest living person to you, but in the company’s eyes, this relationship does not constitute a close family member.

So, I think that helps to explain what it means to be a disenfranchised griever. . . these aren’t people we think to send sympathy cards to after their loss.

But what about suicide?  Why have I started off a post about suicide by talking about disenfranchised grief?

There is so much stigma associated with suicide. . . societal, religious, spiritual, and interpersonal.

Grief is hard enough to deal with and loss due to suicide is even tougher for most people to try to understand.

We have a lot of thoughts about suicide. . .

“How could they do this to me?”

“Did I miss the signs?”

“Could I have done something?”

“How could the person I love go against God’s will?”

“Didn’t she love me?”

“Why didn’t he get help?”

According to an article on buddhanet.net on suicide:

“Why would anyone willingly hasten or cause his or her own death? Mental health professionals who have been searching for years for an answer to that question generally agree that people who took their own lives felt trapped by what they saw as a hopeless situation. Whatever the reality, whatever the emotional support provided, they felt isolated and cut off from life, friendships, etc. Even if no physical illness was present suicide victims felt intense pain, anguish, and hopelessness. John Newer, author of After Suicide, says, “He or she probably wasn’t choosing death as much as choosing to end this unbearable pain,”  

It’s hard, when you have never experienced grave psychological or physical pain, to understand what might be going through the mind of the person who attempts to suicide or completes suicide.

Grief is never easy, no matter what the circumstances, even when we feel relief for the end of a person’s pain.  But grief gets more complex as we add layers onto it.

We don’t understand what was going on with the person we loved.  How could they not come to us for help?

Other people might not understand the relationship that we had with the person who completed suicide.

And the type of death, suicide itself, has multiple kinds of stigma attached to it.

Grief for the person who is bereft because suicide can be a confusing and painful.

The best thing you can do to help is to let the person know that you are there and can listen.

Acknowledge the loss, don’t run from it.

We all want to know that someone is there for us when we are hurting.

If you can be that person, let them know.

If you can’t, find out what services are in your area and let them know that help is available.

Next post on loss due to suicide will give you more information on how to be supportive.

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I think before we can talk about grief due to a loss because of suicide, we need to understand suicide.

I believe that psychoeducation is one of our most basic and important tools for conquering anything.

So, how do we know if our loved one needs help or is in danger?

Here is a list of warning signs from “Survivors of Suicide” by Rita Robinson.

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Suicide threats
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Statements revealing a desire to die
  • Sudden change in behavior – withdrawal, apathy, moodiness, anger
  • Depression – crying, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, helplessness, worthlessness
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Loss of interest in appearance
  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Acquiring a weapon
  • Failing to take medication
  • Giving away items
  • Sudden appearance of happiness or calmness

There is a lot of help out there.  Contact a qualified mental health professional in your area if you need help or you are seeking help for someone you love.

Resources:

http://www.griefnet.org/resources/suicide.htmlRelated articles

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

http://www.sprc.org/

Related Articles:

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Sometimes we don’t have time during the work day to get to the important things. . .

I had a friend ask me about grief and co-workers and then the phone rang so I didn’t get to answer her.

I have to say, as an aside, that I love being the go-to-person for grief.  Yes, if you have read this blog, you know it is a passion of mine.

But anyway, this is kind of how it started off. . .

“So Jen Jen (note:  don’t ever call me Jen Jen . . . this one person is the ONLY person in the world that it’s okay from because the alternative was worse), I wanna ask you about grief. . . I’ve sent emails, left cards, said something in person.  .  . but what’s the best thing to do?  I don’t want to make someone cry at work. . . Personally, I hate crying and I don’t want anyone to feel bad. . . what should I do?”

I thought it was a great question, minus the Jen Jen…. but that’s another post.  LOL

So seriously. . . what do you do?

Here is my answer to this situation:

We don’t make anyone cry.  We don’t cause anyone to be bereaved.

We hurt no one by letting them know we care.

We can invite someone to get in touch with their grief, if they choose.

What most people don’t get is that the bereft are, please pardon the pun, “dying to tell their story”.

They want to hear that person’s name.

They want to share.

Well, most do.

There are some who are shut off or shut down and they will let you know.

But what I have learned over the years through others and through my own journey, is that people want to share their stories.  

Think about wearing your pink ribbon or your Livestrong bracelet.  They beg for dialogue.

Still don’t believe it?  Google grief or look around on WordPress. . . there are at least a dozen blogs of people sharing their stories of loss and healing and struggle. . .

When I was in TN, I wore my red ribbon every day.  I had no problem telling strangers that my brother died of AIDS.  Or that I had worked with AIDS patients.

Did you have a mom or a favorite aunt die of breast cancer?  Is that why you wear your pink ribbon?  Do you share her story or your story with her?

We want to connect.

We want to remember.  We often feel broken. . . we want to be re-membered. . .

We are in touch with that person, engaging their “spirit” and that very noble part of us that is not bereft but it and will always be connected with the person who died.

So in the workplace, let someone know you care.  It’s okay.  I don’t know of anyone who has ever been upset that someone showed a little kindness at work. . . and in some workplaces, it might be the only kindness that if offered.

If you are unsure, be discreet.  You don’t have to do it at the water cooler or in the middle of a staff meeting, but you can stop by someone’s cubicle or office.

Let them know if you are open to talking.  Be prepared to listen and not share your own stories; early grief usually dictates that it is their story that is important and again, if they are like most of us, their story is on their mind.

They may be foggy or scattered and even if they like you and care about you, they may be “full” and can’t really attend to you or your feelings/story.

So let them know if they can email or call you outside work.  Let them know that you are open for coffee, if they are interested.  But don’t if it is only politeness.  If you put it out there, expect that they will take you up, even if they don’t.

What I have never found to be helpful?

Ignoring the loss.

Telling someone you know just how they feel.

Going into a running dialogue about your own losses.

Telling them that the person who died is better off. . . even if you believe that. . .because (and I have to be frank here… ) most people would gladly have the person back in bad condition than to be without them.  It seems counter intuitive, but it’s true.  

Don’t tell them that time will heal.  We want it better right now or we want the person back.  Heck, we want both, right now.

I will never forget pulling out of the gas station, my first day back from driving to work after my mentor died.  I think I said, out loud in the car, “what’s wrong with these people?  Don’t they get that the most important person on the planet is gone?”  Unfortunately, 10 days later, the world was right there with me, as we sat in horror . . . watching the twin towers implode.

That week, I knew that people got how I was feeling.  I didn’t know anyone who was not touched some how and it made my own loss a bit more bearable that the whole world was grieving and at the same time, it didn’t matter.

We are forever touched by the people who come into our lives. . . even if I never meet Ben over at http://bennaga.wordpress.com/  but his poetry often moves me or Wendy at http://meaningfulwesternlife.com/ whose blog reminds me of the benefits of MBSR ,  Lou over at http://talesfromthelou.wordpress.com/ who is a warrior for telling the truth no matter what,  or Marty http://ptsdawayout.com/ who shares everything he knows about mindfulness who healing hearts and brains of people with PTSD, or William at http://fiercebuddhist.org/ who inspires me to try my hand at haiku or http://mindmindful.wordpress.com/ where I find a little different perspective on all things mindful,  but my life has been touched by their blogs, by their kindness, by them showing me the ropes and answering my questions.  I would be sad if I could not check in with their daily tales and insights.

And yet these are people who I do not know.  People who have not broken bread with me, shared sorrows and joys.   But I want to share their work with you.

Can you imagine how much I want to share the wise words of my former mentor or the love that I have for my grandfather or brother?

So if you still have any doubts about offering condolences, ask yourself, if someone I cared about was gone, what would I want?  (Remember when Seinfeld or Friends went off the air?  You wanted to talk about it, right?… )

What would you yearning for when you were without a person that you loved dearly?

Hopefully that answer will sink deeper than my words.

Peace, Jennifer

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“Just sitting means just that. That ‘just’ endlessly goes against the grain of our need to fix, transform, and improve ourselves. The paradox of our practice is that the most effective way of transformation is to leave ourselves alone. The more we let everything be just what it is, the more we relax into an open, attentive awareness of one moment after another.”

~~ Barry Magid, Leave Yourself Alone

I remember listening to an audiobook… I can’t remember if it was Pema Chodron or not as it was years ago, but I remember it was a female dharma teacher.  Anyway, I remember her saying that all this self-help that we do, the exercise programs, the 10 ways to be a better…, etc it all has at its root the seeds of aggression.

What???  you might ask.  What are you talking about?  Isn’t it self-love or lovingkindness that I want to better my life?  Don’t I get credit for wanting to fix things?

That inherent aggression comes from us wanting to take apart what is, in us, in our lives. . . our plans at self-help keep us from seeing that what is here, now, and softening to it with our presence.

And I believe it is when we soften to who we are in the moment, what our life circumstances are here and now, that we really do the best thing we can for ourselves.

I think this is one reason why so much grief theory frustrates me.  Go through these stages (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross).  Perform these tasks (Bill Worden, Teresa Rando).  Reconcile these needs (Alan Wolfelt).  Buy my recovery workbook. . . this one I can’t even remember because I really dislike the idea that anyone would even frame grief as something we have to recover from.

And this is also why the work of people like Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Ram Dass, and Joan Halifax has been so appealing.  They start with the basic premise that we will have pain in our lives and that isn’t wrong or bad.  We aren’t incomplete or needing fixing when our hearts are broken open with grief and mourning.

If you know someone who is grieving, the kindness thing you can do for them is to be present to them. . . listen. . . be with them. . . allow them to be exactly how they are. . .

And that might be angry, uptight, frightened, relieved, numb, sad. . . we do them the greatest gift when we can just allow what is going on and baring witness to their experience.

Maybe you can’t be the one to do that.  That’s okay.  It’s good to know that about yourself.  So help them find someone who can.

Maybe you can help run some errands for them so they can find a support group or a meditation group.

Maybe you could find a podcast on mindfulness for them and tape it.

Or you could share a resource with them like Grieving Mindfully by Sameet Kumar or The Grief Process by Stephen and Ondrea Levine.

Let them know that you don’t want to change them and that you do want to support them.

Remember that grief is an outward expression of love for the person who has died.

Why on earth would we want to take that from them?

Why on earth would we want them to recover from that?  Model love for them by accepting them just where they are, here and now.

Related articles

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http://withsympathygifts.com/blog/griefsupport/4-things-you-should-not-say-to-a-child-who-has-experienced-death/

Here is a link to a quick post to remind you that children are often called “the forgotten mourners”.

Kids don’t grieve like little adults.

They don’t have the same coping skills or life experience.

Kids don’t sit down and talk about grief the way you or I might.

Kids learn through repetition.

They communicate through play.

They use all of their senses more often to understand.

They are often more concrete thinkers than adults.

But they do love and grieve. . . and I’ve never been more sure of anything else in the world.

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“Don’t grieve.
Anything you lose comes
round in another form.”
Rumi
 

 I would SO love to tell you, “Yeah, don’t grieve.  It’s not spiritually necessary or enlightened.  We are transcendent beings. . . ”

Whatever!

Most of us are not there and many give lip service to those kinds of messages if we are honest with ourselves.

We hurt when we lose something.

We really hurt when we lose someone.

We have deep connections with the person we loved who died.

They co-create our world with us.

Sometimes they gave life to us (or we to them) and then we created a history, a storyline, a relationship, a family, a network of friends, etc.

We derive meaning and pleasure from our connection.

We sometimes sustain wounds and hardships in those relationships as well.

But they (the person and our experiences with them) are as much a part of us as our arm or leg and there is pain when someone dies as there is when we sustain a physical injury.

What I have come to learn, through my experience and the experience of those around me, is when we acknowledge the presence of the pain, (the upheaval, and the sense of being distraught) and can hold it in our awareness, even if for moments, healing occurs.

We do more harm, expend more energy, and suffer longer when we disavow the pain.

I think we can get to a place of understanding that others really “never leave us” because we get in touch with our interconnectedness with them.  But when we don’t touch the pain and allow it to be, it is harder to connect with more transcendent concepts.

This is one of the reasons why practices like mindfulness are beneficial to our “grief work.”  The practice teaches us to be present, moment to moment, and to accept rather than to fight off.

We then have the energy to live with what “is” and to have compassion for the situation as it presents itself.

So, I don’t think we need to throw ideas like Rumi’s out altogether.  I think we just need to practice a lot of compassion on the way to having a lived-bodily experience of what it truly means.

And without that experience, those words can be hurtful and harmful to someone who is still defending from their pain.

~~As a side note, today is my dad’s birthday!  I can’t be with him today but I am NEVER far away from my thoughts and heart.  Happy Birthday Daddy!  Thank you for all of these decades of love, support, and lessons.

 

~~~~~~~

For more information about learning to allow pain and sorrow, check out Stephen Levine‘s work Unattended Sorrow or The Grief Process CD/Audio.

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