Grief is never something you get over. You don't wake up one morning and say, “I've conquered that; now I'm moving on.” It's something that walks beside you every day. And if you can learn how to manage it and honour the person that you miss, you can take something that is incredibly sad and have some form of positivity. – Terri Irwin, widowed wife of Steve Irwin
Grief comes at us hard. Whether we had time to prepare for its onset or not, no one is ever really ready for the experience of loss. It is painful, messy, confusing, and constantly in flux. Grief is the soul’s adjustment process and growing pains to a new life situation. Further, it is often shrouded in mystery in terms of what is “acceptable grief.”
Since everyone experiences the grief process differently, we often shy away from sharing our experience or listening to how our loved ones experience it.
C.S. Lewis had this to say about it: “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say 'My tooth is aching' than to say 'My heart is broken.'”
When our tooth aches, we go to the dentist. When our arm is broken, we ...
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold. But you learn to dance with the limp.” – Anne Lamott
I am writing about one of life’s most uncomfortable and difficult topics to discuss – grief. This topic is so much more poignant and sensitive to the touch for me right now, as I have been walking through some personal grief recently that happens to be associated directly with this line of work that I have been called to do.
I must admit, as a counselor, grief is one of the toughest topics for me to grapple with when I am sitting across from you and you're in the midst of heartbreak and loss. Your world has just been forever changed; the reality that you have been accustomed to is now forever different.
As someone whose job it is to sit with you and share in this heartache, I find that no matter how many skills or tools, or how much knowledge or education I have for you during this time, I am still as human as ...
As we seek to understand our own grief process, this article will draw from the resource, Understanding Your Grief, by Alan Wolfelt to outline ten essential touchstones.
Touchstone One: Open to the Presence of Your Loss
“You have probably been taught that pain is an indication that something is wrong and that you should find ways to alleviate the pain.
In our culture, pain and feelings of loss are experiences most people try to avoid. Why? Because the role of pain and suffering is misunderstood. Normal thoughts and feelings after a loss are often seen as unnecessary and inappropriate.”
“You will learn over time that the pain of your grief will keep trying to get your attention until you have the courage to gently, and in small doses, open to its presence. The alternative – denying or suppressing your pain – is, in fact, more painful. I have learned that the pain that surrounds the closed heart of grief is the pain of living against yourself, the pain of denying how the loss changes you, the pain of feeling alone and isolated – unable to openly mourn, unable to love and be loved by those around you.”
Setting our intention to heal is a commitment to sometimes being frightened, painful, and often lonely. No words can take away the pain. Ho...
Birth and death are the two indisputable experiences that we share as humans. Each person has entered the world from the womb and will one day die. We join the world screaming, unaware of self and others and begin, well … being. It is a bright time brimming with possibility. There is a middle, where we are now, and where we focus most of our attention. And then there is death – a universal reality. Heavy, dark, and mysterious.
Despite the hard facts of the life cycle, the way we approach death varies greatly. I wish that I could tell you “There is one way that humans deal with death. Pay attention and I’ll give you the steps to avoiding the pain that accompanies it.” Much to my disappointment, and I’m sure yours as well, that just isn’t the way death works and that is not the direction this article is going.
Consider your own thoughts about death. Probably different from a six-year old’s, right? A six-year-old may realize that when a person dies they will no longer be around, but perhaps the complexity in which they understand the death will develop at a later age.
Similarly, the emotional response to death, known as grief, is different from person to person. Age, environment, and religious beliefs are key factors in an individual’s narrative of death ...
What Do the Holidays Mean to You?
When the Christmas music starts, the decorations in stores begin to change, how do you feel? A lot of people get excited, anticipating the holiday season and love this time of year! But for others who have been through difficulties in the previous year, the holiday season can bring on undue anxiety, stress, depression, and thoughts of hopelessness and loneliness. There is a reason counselors see an increase in clientele during the holiday season, as unfortunately, it can bring up many things for individuals. Some people may have relatives who were close to them, who passed away this time of year, which makes it especially hard to celebrate the joy that this season can bring. It can also be a time of reflection over the past year, which can bring up anxiety and sadness for those who felt that their year was a tough one.
What do you do to handle your holiday stress? Do you keep it inside and not let anyone know how you are feeling? Often this is what we tend to do, as talking about difficult topics is not something that comes naturally to anyone. Something that can be helpful this time of year when you are experiencing this sadness and loss, is to talk about it more and seek out help if necessary. We are not mea...
Endings and Leavings | Part 9 of a 9-part series on the deeper Self that awakens in laboring through grief, living through loss, and embracing endings as the seedbed of new beginnings.
The first eight articles in this series sought to explore endings as a reflection of the mystery and complexity that both nuances and nurtures our humanity.
That grief can pull us into the gray, and defy words, doesn’t mean that it lacks definition. At times grief work must respect the human need to categorize and compartmentalize our experience.
The grieving process is shaped by many variables: the type of loss experienced, one’s personality and culture, a person’s individualized style of grieving, and to what degree the loss is complicated by associated trauma or other unresolved, complicating factors.
The following grief synopsis is adapted from Dr. Steven Maybell’s work as director of the Student Counseling Center at Seattle Pacific University.
As Maybell notes, “Grief is not just a response to death, but a response to loss.”
Types of Loss
Concrete Loss: Loss that is tangible, observable, or easily identifiable – a house, a limb, a loved one, a valued possession, health, function or ability, activities, etc.
Endings and Leavings | Part 8 of a 9-part series on the deeper Self that awakens in laboring through grief, living through loss, and embracing endings as the seedbed of new beginnings.
Do not go gentle into that good night … rage, rage against the dying of the light. (poet Dylan Thomas)
My wife’s voice, shrouded by muffled sobs, was barely audible on the phone. She did not want our daughter to overhear the shocking news. Not yet.
The staff at Chloe’s school had called just a minute ago: her kindergarten teacher had died suddenly in his home. (From complications related to a seizure, we later learned.)
Chloe’s beloved teacher, Mr. Heaton? Dead? The words rolled like a mudslide down the mind, gathering speed and refusing to stick.
And this was my adult mind. How would our 6-year-old brave her world upending, just as it was beginning? This kid who’d found a hero during her transition to a new city, new house, new school.
The next day, we knew, Chloe would enter that classroom and fall headlong into a void. Mr. Heaton’s energy and his teddy-bear presence would show up in the abyss of his absence. From this, we could not protect her. Except to maybe so...