Tag Archives: Grief

New Year’s Resolution for the Bereaved

THIS YEAR I VOW TO…

ALLOW AND HONOR ALL MY FEELINGS

  • Not to judge myself or my feelings
  • Not to utter or think any rules or “shoulds”

LISTEN TO MY HEART

  • To enter that still, sure place within where peace survives
  • To trust my inner voice

TREAT MYSELF LIKE A PRECIOUS CHILD

  • To be gentle and compassionate toward myself
  • To be kind and forgiving toward myself
  • To reassure myself I am doing the best I can in this moment

GIVE MYSELF WHATEVER TIME I NEED TO GRIEVE,

  • whenever I need it

ALLOW MYSELF THE RELIEF FROM ISOLATION, COMPARISONS, AND JUDGMENT

  • Find support from someone who will be with me just as I am

TRUST MY BODY TO KNOW HOW TO GRIEVE, AND

  • then let it

ALLOW LOVE TO FLOW TO ME FROM MY COMMUNITY

  • from family who may not have understood me
  • from unexpected people who surround me
  • from a friend to sit with me, hold me, and comfort my mind/body/and soul

TO FIND MIRACLES IN THE MOST ORDINARY OF THINGS AND EVENTS EACH DAY

  • a sunrise, a hummingbird, the wet nose of a dog, a child pumping on a swing
  • I will see and even feel wonder and beauty in the world without the guilt or despair that I am enjoying it without my loved one

TO TAKE ONE DEEP BREATH AFTER ANOTHER, AND

  • trust my resilience and ability to be with all my feelings

TO HOLD ON TO THE LOVE, AND

  • not let death end my relationship with my loved one

“Confronting Mortality: Faith & Meaning Across Cultures”

The New York Academy of Science and the Nour Foundation sponsored a forum Feb. 5 2014.

Despite advances in technology and medicine, death itself remains an immutable certainty. Indeed, the acceptance and understanding of our mortality is one of the enduring metaphysical challenges that have confronted human beings from the beginning of time.

How have we sought to cope with the inevitability of our mortality? How do various cultural and social representations of mortality shape and influence the way in which we understand and approach death? To what extent do personal beliefs and convictions about the meaning of life or the notion of an afterlife impact how we perceive and experience the process of death and dying? Psychologist Lani Leary, historian of religions Jeffrey J. Kripal, and sociologist Allan Kellehear come together to share a multicultural perspective on death, dying, and what lies beyond.

– See more at: http://www.nourfoundation.com/events/rethinking-mortality/confronting-mortality-faith-and-meaning-across-cultures#sthash.xxZNq6an.dpuf

When your loved one is a secret…

I recently received letter from a woman who lost her boyfriend. Unfortunately, she says she was “the other woman.” He was in the process of moving out, but passed away in bed one night. There is a question as to whether it was suicide or an accident. She states that the problem, because of her situation, is that she feels she is mourning alone. His family does not realize how much he loved her, or she him. This was someone she was planning to spend her life with. She asks me, “How do I move forward without knowing how he died, or being able to participate in any of the rituals that go with death…funeral, burial, support of family and friends?”

I responded by writing that:

My heart goes out to you in the solitude of your grief. Yours is a complicated and disenfranchised mourning, because of the layers of circumstances that leave you suspended with questions rather than answers; misunderstanding rather than solace; and separation rather than community.

You are not receiving the validation that would reinforce your importance in your boyfriend’s life. You are not receiving this confirmation of significance from others, but that does not mean that you cannot receive it from yourself. The reality is, that no one else can confirm for you the truth, or depth, about your feelings for each other. No one else truly understands your relationship, though they could honor it. That is the value of the ritual of funerals and memorials when people come together to grieve and honor the deceased and the relationship. In place of that, could you and create a ritual to reflect your feelings for each other and the meaning of your loss? This “memorial” might mean spending time at a place in nature that meant a lot to him and saying good-bye to him in your own private service. Or it might mean creating a scholarship in his name to honor him. I encourage you to give yourself what you wish others would give you so that your grief can be expressed and honored. Ultimately, we all grieve alone and no one else truly understands our relationship with our beloved, or the meaning of the loss of that relationship. In this, you are not alone.

You may not have the facts surrounding the cause of his death. Ours is one of the only cultures that, upon hearing of a death, other people’s first question is “how did he die?” We grieve because our loved one is no longer a part of our world in the same way that he or she was. The suffering you feel due to the manner of death can be softened if one does not personalize or take responsibility for the accident or the suicide. Can you really know if either circumstance is true? How would you feel if you focused on the love you shared and what his life meant, rather than the mode of his death? You can move forward without knowing answers because ultimately we all move forward when we are ready, and when we decide to move into life. Take the energy from your relationship and his love for you, and use that to find meaning in the loss and a reason for your future. Only you can do that, as we all must do that, and we each must do that alone.

Do not limit the support for yourself that is out there. The support group that I led for young widows would have welcomed you with open arms. You could have identified yourself as the girlfriend of a man who died unexpectedly, of unknown causes, and used the weekly meetings to talk about your feelings. Those feelings could have included your questions about the uncertainty of how he died, and even not being fully included in his family. You would not have been ostracized for being “the other woman” and could have talked about your boyfriend in a way that was authentic, but respectful of others’ identities. And the group would have respected your confidentiality and supported you. Everyone deserves support, and I hope that you keeping looking to find what you deserve.

The struggle and work of grief is internal and your own. Your grief is as unique as your fingerprint, and yet we all know or will experience loss and grief. We heal more completely in community and with the compassion of others. Please allow yourself to trust and seek out the comfort of care that will help you during this difficult journey.

Unexpected death spins our world upside down.

Sudden, unexpected death catches you off-guard and can challenge all of your coping skills. It is normal to feel as though nothing makes sense and that your world, as you have known it, is foreign and unsafe. Most of us believe we will have the opportunity to prepare for the death of a loved one, since 80% of all deaths are from illness or age-related circumstances. When you have no advance warning or opportunity to gather resources for understanding and support, grief is even more intense. The shock of the unexpected makes thinking and processing the reality even more difficult.

Griefwork requires the brain to be able to accept the reality of the death, but in the shock of the unexpected death, the brain may protect the person by shutting down. Brain studies show that grief has a significant impact on memory, perception, conceptualization, and even heart and digestive health. Taking care of yourself by giving yourself time off from work and other responsibilities is important. Accepting support for home maintenance, chores, and day-to-day responsibilities can strengthen your bodily reserves necessary to regain a sense of stability.

Griefwork also asks us to feel our grief. Intense grief reactions and emotions are strong and unpredictable. What is most helpful is to give yourself the space, time, and permission to feel whatever feelings arise and to be with them in gentle doses. The presence of a loving and understanding support person usually makes a significant impact in our ability to be with difficult emotions. Validation is a key element in being able to fully acknowledge, accept, reconcile, and integrate the death of a loved one. Seek out a support person who can honor and validate your feelings and whom you can trust for on-going support.

Feelings of guilt and regret are common reactions after a sudden death. Working with grief becomes a spiritual (not necessarily religious) practice of finding peace and meaning in the unexpected. You might find solace with strategies such as meditation, prayer, or journaling. Or you might benefit by seeking support from clergy or a grief support group.

The physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual work of grief usually takes longer than we expect. Griefwork is active, repetitive and painful, but necessary if we are to go on loving and living well in a new world without your loved one. As you do this work, your grief will soften, and you will find that you do not forget your loved one, but rather bring his memory into the future with you. Within your griefwork is a choice… the choice to carry your loved one within you, in a new relationship, and to continue loving. The work is not easy, but it will change your experience from powerless to powerful, and from hopeless to hopeful.

The value of ceremonies

I recently received an inquiry from a family grieving the death of their daughter from an accident 5 years ago.  I think this is a common question, and speaks to a valid need for community and support:

Dear Dr. Leary:  Why do we find meaning in attending the “In Celebration & Remembrance” ceremonies year after year?”  Friends may say this is really sad that we have not “gotten over” the death of our daughter, but for us, we have a chance to once again feel her memory and be with people who understand this journey.  Why do we keep returning? Is there something wrong with this?  

It takes great courage to grieve, because it asks you to be open and vulnerable to your deepest wound.  Your grief exposes you and can make you feel out of control.  It takes courage to feel your pain and share it with others.  It takes courage to learn how to live in a new world, in a new way, without your loved one.

But in our culture, the bereaved most often report that they feel alone with their grief.  You may have felt abandoned just weeks after the funeral.  You may have felt as though you were on your own, trying to navigate this unknown territory by yourself.  The bereaved often say that they feel ashamed that their grief has not abated to other’s timetables.  That is, until we find a community of others who know our experience of death and grief; who share our common language; who also know what we need and what helps.

You return to rituals and ceremonies that honor your loved one because you find meaning and solace in a shared experience with love and loss.  During these ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations you feel you are in community with each other, and the connection is what makes your loss more bearable.

In this community of the bereaved you have created a safe space.  You are a family and you are as different as you are similar.  While each of your loss is unique, each one of you is the expert for your grief alone, but you all grieve and are in community.  You share the human condition of being vulnerable and that is what connects all of us.

Each of your heartaches is unique and none of it is common…but you have much in common. You grieve because you have loved.  You are in pain because you felt an attachment.  You come together again to remember and honor that love and connection, and you come to these remembrance celebrations because it is here that you are given permission, time, safety, and validation to grieve.

Together, during these remembrance celebrations, you do not need to be afraid that you will forget or that your loved ones will be forgotten.  You can speak their name; you can tell their stories; you carry on their legacy; you share your loved one with others.  Just having a caring environment in which you can express your feelings and be heard is profoundly healing.

All grief needs to be blessed, and in order to be blessed, it must be heard.  Someone must be present to your expression of grief, someone who is willing to hold it by listening without judgment or comparison. When you wail or tell your story of loss, it is based in your need that your loss not go unnoticed—the death of your loved one will not be overlooked, and your loved one’s place in the world will be marked. Grief is an expression that validates your loved one’s existence in the world and acknowledges that love for a person does not die just because she or he did.

You return to these ceremonies because it is helpful.  You return because remembering matters.  There is nothing wrong with returning to love.

 

We need courage & community to grieve

In memory of the 20 children and 6 adults who died in Newtown, Connecticut on 12/14/12:

It takes great courage to grieve. Grief asks us to be honest, open and vulnerable…to expose our underbelly and try to make sense of what is messy and feels out of control. It takes deep courage to share one’s story with their whole heart. It takes great courage to feel one’s pain and to learn to live in a new world, in a new way, without our loved one. Grief is such exhausting work!

You may feet abandoned and alone with your grief. You may feel as though you are on your own, trying to navigate this unknown territory by yourself. But what we all have in common, what we share, is an experience with love and loss. A sense of connection and community is what makes our grief bearable. Grief is what we all have in common.

You are part of a community that has loved and has grieved. Chances are, no matter when the death occurred, you are still grieving. While each of your losses is unique, and each one of you is the expert about your grief, you are connected and are in community. We all share the human condition of being vulnerable, and that is what connects us at the deepest level.

Each heartache is unique and none of it is “common”, but we all have much in common. You grieve because you have loved. You feel pain because you felt connection.

All grief needs to be blessed, and in order to be blessed, it must be heard. Someone must be present for your expression of grief, someone who is willing to hold your feelings and your story by listening without judgment or comparison. When you wail or tell the story of your loss, it is based on your need that your loss not go unnoticed. We need to know that the death of a loved one will not be overlooked, and that our loved one’s place and significance in the world will be marked. Grief is an expression that validates our loved one’s existence in the world, and acknowledges that she or he mattered.

Death does not get to take away the love you feel, or the connection you have with your loved one. Death does not win. We live with our grief, but we carry it with love. We hold on. We take our loved one forward into the future with us, into our life. We do not forget. We do not “get over it”. We get on with it.