Is it True?

We have an experience. It’s often quite personal, especially when it pertains to grief. Thinking or sharing about our experience is telling our story. This matters so very much! Sharing our story helps us to process. Important stuff.

Is our story true? By that I mean to ask; are we sure that we have all of the facts straight?

Some months ago someone that I like and respect asked me to participate in something that was powerfully meaningful to me. I quickly responded via email with an excited ‘Yes, count me in!’ And then I heard nothing more. Crickets… I sent another email to the same address which had initiated the offer and again I received no response.

And I began telling myself a story. It went something like this.

Oh boy, I guess she really didn’t want me after all. Hmmmmm, maybe it was something that I said last time we met. Perhaps others included found me to be objectionable in some way.

On and on I went. The story grew in my head and I felt sad. In truth I felt very hurt. This person, someone that I really like must not like me after all. I felt rejected. I asked myself why they would invite me at all if they were going to ignore me. Why wouldn’t they simply reach out and tell me we were not a good fit. It must be because I am not worthy. I am less than. I am not enough. In my head this was all true. And it hurt like the dickens.

Then one day I thought about the question that my clients know they will be asked when presenting a similar story. How did I know that my story was true? Had I taken any steps to confirm the facts? Nope.

Yes, I had responded to the same email address from which the invitation originated, but I’m well aware that email can often have problems.

The next step was to contact her in another way. I received a very swift response! Not only did she still want me to participate, she had been very disappointed when she did not receive the expected response from me. My email went to her spam account, so she had never seen it. Situation cleared up and we went on to cooperate with one another on this project.

Now I should know better than to take thoughts and make them true without verification. Having said that, it’s a very normal, human thing to do. I found myself laughing about this more than once because knowing what we should do does not always mean that we do what we should.

When a heart is broken by grief, it can be very easy to slip into our story of neglect or abuse. Believing that we are unloved or uncared for can feel as though it’s true when we have not heard from someone. When we misinterpret something that is said – or not said. Or any number of other situations.

I ask you to question your own story. So very often when we are hurting the most, we can forget that others have a life separate from our anguish. They may try to reach out and perhaps we are not receptive in that moment. So many things hurt. Misunderstandings happen easily.

Please be gentle with yourself and with those who care about you. Ask them to be patient as well. To repeat things or write them down. Take the steps you need to be sure that your story is true. It matters. You too are human and we are all doing the very best that we can.

And please remember, each story of grief begins and ends with love.  This I absolutely believe to be true.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

 

Sometimes We Need to Sit in the Mud

A very wise woman I know very gently reminds others, ‘Sometimes you just need to spend time sitting in the mud’.

And I believe she’s absolutely right.

When you have a heart that is grieving, you may not even realize how very exhausted you are at the end of each day… or even right after waking. Grief is very hard work!

Time out matters.

While we often think that we need to get things done, even having a to-do list, a very important part of healing a grieving heart is allowing time and opportunity to simply be in the now. To truly feeeeeeeel all of those emotions at whatever level they are in the moment.

Release judgment. There is no right or wrong to your feelings. They simply are a measurement, an indicator of where you are right now.

What might this look like? It could mean a day curled up in bed for some. Perhaps listening to music, sleeping, crying or reminiscing. It might be time spent on the couch watching shows or movies that take us back to cherished time spent with the one we are missing. Perhaps a nice warm bath nourishing your body.

Find what works for you. This is not about movement or work; this is about feeling and allowing your heart to express itself.

And here’s a little secret for you. While this may feel as though you are doing nothing at all, you are in fact accomplishing quite a lot. It’s important to fully feel and acknowledge all feelings in order for them to begin healing.

Spend some time sitting in the mud. As you rest your body, your heart and your soul be assured that healing is happening deep within. This is a very important part of the healing journey.

Namaste,
Sandy

Vulnerability and Healing Grief

Several years ago I was part of a business networking group that met regularly. I enjoyed it tremendously and looked forward to these gatherings as they were productive and the people there genuinely cared about one another.

After my son died, something changed. It seemed that I had become invisible. If someone asked a question pertaining to a service I offered, someone else would respond. Not always the same person, but it was as if I wasn’t there at all.

This happened a few times and I really didn’t know what was happening. I spent only a very short time feeling hurt, that emotion very quickly morphed into anger. I got up a pretty good steam of irritation and asked someone in the group who was also a longtime friend if we could talk.

When I explained what I was feeling she understood as she was entirely aware of the situation. It turns out she was much more aware than I.

She quite patiently explained to me that she had noticed whenever someone would generally ask how I was, I would change the subject, turn the question right around and make it about the other person. The more specific any concern about my emotional well-being became, the more certain I was to shut it down, redirect or downplay my grief. The result was that these people I cared about and who I knew cared about me, learned not to engage me. I was pushing them away – with both hands.

As she gently shared these experiences with me, reminding me of specific conversations, I had to acknowledge that she was entirely correct. By deflecting or avoiding I was not in any way softening or healing my own pain. In fact, I was actually adding to my own suffering and hurting others at the same time. This was of course, unacceptable.

I had to really think about this and if I wanted to change things, it was entirely up to me. And fortunately I had this brave, honest friend by my side. I’ve always had a very difficult time allowing others to see my hurts. Irritation or anger was much easier for me to acknowledge and process, but hurt? Oh my, the vulnerability that brought with it.

Here’s the thing, when I lost my son to suicide, I didn’t have a choice. The pain was deeper than anything I had ever experienced. n order to receive the support that I so desperately yearned for, in fact needed, I had to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge that pain. Not just to myself, but to others. I had to learn to trust people I cared about to see me when I was not stoic. Deep breath time. If I wanted to keep people I cared about in my life, I needed to allow them to care about me in return.

I realized in a whole new way what incredible strength it takes to allow others to see your vulnerability. To trust that they will be gentle with a broken heart. That they will see tears as shining symbols of love rather than weakness and that they would honor that love. To trust that they wouldn’t turn away from me (as I feared waaaaaay deep inside) but would rather turn in for a hug, offer a hand in support or simply be there. Just be there.

For me, trusting others to be supportive and loving and accepting that true caring was much more difficult that offering compassion and support to others.

It’s perfectly alright to be discerning about selecting what you are ready to share and with whom. Monitor those healthy boundaries and trust your intuition. It’s not healthy to share with everyone, but it’s also not helpful or healthy to hold everything inside. Pain needs to be expressed in safe, healthy ways in order to subside.

By the way, I am deeply grateful to my gentle friend. She was entirely right and knowing this allowed me to make some changes. No, I didn’t begin to pour my heart out to everyone, but I realized I was not without power in these situations. Deciding how I would respond helped me tremendously and I was able to rebuild relationships.

I have the greatest respect for those who bravely share their heart, whether it is filled with joy or pain. They are the way-showers.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

‘Why’ has been Visiting

I’ve been going through some old writings, reviewing and in some ways even reliving what my journey has been up to this point. When I came across the message below, it felt important to share. As I read my own words, I became aware in a new way that I had, in fact, personified the question that swirls within the minds of most who have lost someone to suicide. ‘Why?’

You see, we all walk this path one step at a time. Each and every breath, every thought and experience is part of our very personal grief journey. For some perspective on my journey, this message was written 3 years after my son Mike died. 

The time since we got the news until today has not revealed a reason for this decision. There are those who swear that only one who is mentally ill would take their life, and perhaps that’s so, but even hindsight doesn’t provide that clarity.

I would guess that there are fewer than a handful of times since Mike died that I have gone to bed without asking him why…why did he choose to leave this planet, this life with the people he loved and who loved him so much. Today, I still have no answers.

Mike loved his job, no one there had a clue. He had terrific friends, they were all totally blind-sided by his suicide. Mike spoke to each of his elder brothers as well as his sister-in-law a few times a week, no one could have been more surprised. He lived the last year of his life back at home with my husband and me, we are still unable to answer this question. Was he depressed? Was there something going on in his life that has yet to come to light? Was he physically in distress? Was he just “done”  with this life and ready to explore the next? I have all of these questions and so many more.

The question of Why has been with me since 4 am on December 18, 2010. Sometimes I’ve been haunted by Why. Other times Why has simply lingered around the edges of my world. Why is still there…not nearly as powerful or onerous as in the past…but still present. I almost have a visual of Why. A personification if you will. No longer terrifying or crushing, it’s much more gentle now. Just sort of hanging around. Not a threat in any way. At one time Why brought along with it recriminations for not knowing ahead of time that this could or would happen. All of that has eased and I think gone away, at least for the most part. Now, Why is simply a visitor, just there.

Others know why their loved one chose to die, I pray that knowledge helps them to heal. Still, I suspect that if I knew the answer to this lingering question that there would be another in its place. I certainly know that grief and healing is no easier for those who know the answer to that question, their grief is just a bit different than mine.

The presence of Why will ease, it always does, at least for me. In what may seem a strange way, I think I’m making friends with Why. I’m learning to be more forgiving of myself and others, knowing in a most profound way that we seldom really know what is in the mind and heart of another. Why is helping me to understand and be more at ease.

One step at a time, one breath at a time. We walk this journey of grief into healing together. For me, Why is a companion in this journey with whom I am becoming more and more comfortable.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

Grief – Anniversaries, Special Days and Events

Let’s just imagine for a moment. Perhaps a holiday is right around the corner. It may be a loved one’s birthday, the anniversary of the day that they died, or maybe there is a gathering that you are invited to attend. The very thought may make you cringe. You can feel the tension begin at the thought of being with others during this special time. What if someone says their name? What if no one says their name? What if I get teary? What if I meet someone new and they don’t know me? What if, what if, what if?

Whew, that was overwhelming, truly exhausting and I haven’t even left my chair. So, how can you move through these days and events?

Make a plan. Frankly, even the exercise of imagining who I may run into, what conversations might flow and here’s the biggie, what emotions I may feel, takes a lot of the stress out of an upcoming event.

I encourage you to take nice… deep… slow… breaths when thinking this through to help you be as calm as possible. And then begin thinking about what is coming up and imagine the time being as easy as possible. That’s where the plan comes in.

Personally, I found it incredibly helpful to imagine conversations. Including questions and comments that I may find uncomfortable or just too much to handle. I thought about and role-played in my mind, sometimes with others until I became more comfortable with responses.

Here’s an example of how that might sound. If I were at an event and someone who didn’t know me well asked how many children I have… what sort of answer felt right for me? I had lost my youngest son, so did I have 2 or 3 children? After playing around with possible answers for a while, I found a response that felt right for me. I generally answered that together with my husband we had raised 3 loud, messy, wonderful boys. Others I know answered in their own way. Some would say 2 kids with no mention of the one who died. This is not about denying the existence of the one who died, it is about deciding how much you are comfortable sharing in various circumstances.

Make a plan. I encourage the one who is grieving to enlist the support of someone who cares. A family member or friend. Think about places you can get a bit of privacy if things become too emotional. Think bathroom! You are seldom bothered if you duck in and lock a door for a few deep breaths and to splash your face with cool water. It helps.

Plan a getaway or set a time to leave. Arrange with the one who is supporting you to leave at a pre-determined time. Ask them to keep an eye on you and be willing to rescue you if you give a pre-determined signal. This will help to assure you that you can get away. This will also remind you that you are not alone, you are loved, you matter and someone cares enough to help you get through this difficult time.

Often I have found that having a firm plan in place makes the event much easier.

You can do this. You are not alone. Together, we can walk the path, through grief and into healing.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

The Blurt Factor

I wrote this waaaaaaaay back on February 5, 2011. It was around 7 weeks after the death of my son. I’m sharing it with you now, more than 8 years later because I think that these experiences are more common than we might imagine.

If you are someone that is grieving, it’s my hope that this will assure you that if you ‘blurt’ you are not alone. When grief is new and fresh, our brain simply does not operate in quite the same way as it does typically. Please be gentle and forgiving of yourself.

If you are supporting someone who is grieving, please be patient and aware that they are doing the best they can. Often with less grace than they would prefer, but it is their best at the moment.

February 5, 2011

I’ve been calling it the ‘blurt factor’. At times it seems so strange to me that the death of my son has not caused the planet to stop spinning. I’m sometimes puzzled that when I turn on the radio, pick up a newspaper or switch on the television that there is not wall to wall news about Mike dying. Perhaps similar to what we see and hear when there is the death of someone like Princess Diana or President Kennedy.

Mike died on December 17, 2010. I returned to work on January 3rd. I’m self-employed so that made it somewhat easier. I can and do postpone or cancel appointments when those feelings overwhelm me.

And yet, on the phone with a treasured client a few hours ago, I found myself telling her that my son had died last month and that the cause of death was suicide. Because of the nature of my business, many of my clients including this one know quite a lot about my personal life.  I use examples from my own experiences all the time to help them to move forward in a positive manner. Still, this particular client has moved to another state, she had no way of knowing this had happened and the phone call was not ‘about me’. Hence what I call The Blurt. There was no reason to share this with her, it did not benefit her in any way to know. At least not then and not in that way. Many, if not all of my clients do know because they see one another and also because I have had to cancel or postpone appointments when I’ve had a particularly emotional day. Ugh!!! This was only a moment or two of the one-hour conversation and of course, I apologized profusely. On the phone as well as in follow up communication. I don’t like that I am doing this – this blurting.

As with many of you, this is new territory for me. Part of my brain detaches often and observes with fascination the process that is unfolding. The day before my son died a client contacted me and asked if she could simply come and share for a while with me on Friday. She had lost two people that she cared about to suicide in the previous weeks. These people were unknown to one another but she was feeling overwhelmed and simply needed to share. So, we spent over 3 hours in my office. As we talked I realized that it seemed to me that survivors rarely ‘get over’ suicide. The day I spent with her and with another client who was sharing deep concerns and worries about one of his sons is the day my son died. Another fact that seems to hang around that part of my brain that is simply keeping notes and is not as emotional.

When I experience something life-changing, one of the ways I cope is to read, read, read. So, after losing Mike I began reading websites and books about grief. I was horror-stricken when I read a book that told me that I should expect to curl up in a fetal position and want to die myself. Of course, that’s not literally what the book said, but that is what I took from it at the time. Talk about selective reading! I know that is the experience of many people and I feel horrible that is so, but it’s not been my experience. At least not yet and I pray that it never will be. It sometimes feels to me that I’m not moving through this the way I’m supposed to. But I don’t know just how I am supposed to. What are the rules, the guidelines?

I remember the morning after the officers left our home telling us about the death of our son. My husband and I were sitting together, numb. I kept thinking and even saying ‘I don’t know what to do, say or think next. There must be directions somewhere.’ I think that’s what I look for when I read, directions. There isn’t a manual that I can find so I’m stumbling through doing the best that I can and I think I’m doing okay. Still, there’s the blurt.

I think what bothers me most about the blurt is that it hurts so many people and that feels unnecessary and cruel. It occurs to me that for me at least it’s the verbal equivalent to wearing mourning colors, an armband that signifies that you’ve suffered a loss or a wreath on the door indicating to all that you may be in a fragile state of some sort. While I absolutely do not consider myself fragile, I know that I am changed. Just what that change will look like down the road, I don’t know as yet, I guess I’ll find out as time goes on. For the moment that change brings the frequent blurt, the frequent memory lapses, occasional issues with focus and thankfully diminishing problems with sleep. As sleep returns, I suspect and hope that some of these other issues will dissipate to some extent as well.

I often find myself laughing and enjoying the many pleasures in my life and I am so grateful for the blessing that while I experience profound sadness I have not experienced depression. Still, the tears surprise me often, many times without warning. The last several days were incredibly rough, but today feels pretty darned good and I’m enthusiastic about teaching a class tomorrow followed by watching the Superbowl.

I suspect that blurting is sort of my way of announcing that I’ve changed in a fundamental way. People can see that I’m short, they can see that I’m aging but they can’t see that I’m emotionally wounded. Maybe that’s what the blurt is, a way of sharing and in a small way re-balancing my world. I have always shared my excitement about my family with clients when one is coming home, has something to celebrate, etc, so I suppose that in some way this is continuing to share. For some reason, it’s important for me to assure them that while Mike is gone from my physical life, he’s not gone from my heart or mind. And that I absolutely know he’s near whenever I need him.

Perhaps the blurt will diminish or even go away. Time will tell. At any rate, It’s my intention that by expressing myself here, by sharing this strange bit of behavior (at least new and strange to me) that I will be more aware and able to release the need. Again, time will tell.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

How can I Support Someone Grieving?

That’s a really good question, and I’m so glad that you asked. (wink)

When someone’s heart has been broken, we want to help. It’s human nature and let’s face it, you are a really good human! The problem is that we don’t know what to say or what to do. How would we? We have not supported this friend through this experience before, we’re all new at this and doing the best that we can.

– Show up. Call, text, email, drop a card in the mail. Let the one you care about know that you care. Grief doesn’t heal or go away after a few days. Keep reminding them that you care, that they matter.

– Please be patient. Shock often sets in almost immediately and can last days, weeks or even months. For some, it means that focus takes a walk and memory seems to be on an extended vacation. The one grieving may not be able to process what she is reading or hearing and may need to have things repeated, more than once. He may not remember what you told him a few moments ago. Please, take a deep breath and remember this is someone you care about.

– What do we hear or say? Just call me if you need anything. And we mean it, we really do. But can I let you in on a secret? The one who is experiencing grief may be too overwhelmed to make that call even if they are able to focus enough to determine what they actually need.  This was certainly true for me. What I did find helpful were very specific offers. So here are a few suggestions to give you an idea.

– Ask if you can mow the grass.
– Call and say that you are going to the store for milk and eggs, ask if they have a meal for supper or would they like some tea.
– Headed out for a walk? Invite the one you care about to join you.
– Offer to take the dog for a walk or the children to the park. Ask if they would prefer to join you or have a bit of quiet time.

I think you get the idea. Specifics make it easier for the one who is experiencing grief to focus for a moment and discern what they want or need.

– Say their name! Say the name of the one that is missed. Tell a story about them, something that touched your heart or made you smile. Ask the one who is grieving to share a bit more. This is a gift that will always be cherished.

– Be the back-up. When a day or event is coming up that you expect may be difficult, offer to be their reinforcement. If there is an event coming up and your loved one is considering attending, let them know that you will be there for them. Shoulder to shoulder, it matters. Talk ahead of time about what sort of signal they can give you to let you know they need to have a break or even to leave. In short, be their safety net.

– Take a deep breath if the person you are supporting is unkind or short-tempered with you. Count to 3, or 5 or 137 before responding. What does your heart tell you they intend to convey to you? This does not mean that it’s necessary for you to be a doormat! As gently as possible, in a calm and quiet tone, respond from your heart. Kindness always matters.

– Notice language. If in doubt, ask. When my son died, I realized how many people were terrified of the word suicide. Because the word is so strongly stigmatized some would whisper or avoid saying the word. For me, that was not a concern, but it might be for others. Terminology can land quite painfully for some, please be sensitive. Again, thinking about losing my son to suicide, some would use the phrase ‘committed suicide’ this never bothered me at all. But I do know and care about folks who are deeply offended by that phrase. Notice, be aware and if in doubt, simply ask what is okay.

You are going to make mistakes. Forgive yourself. The one you are supporting is going to make mistakes. Forgive them. Remember that we are all doing the best we can and let that be enough. What matters most is that you care enough to let the person grieving know that they matter to someone. That they are loved. Bless you, for sharing your heart.

Namaste,
Sandy

Be the Gardener of Your Mind

Trees, bushes, and flowers are in my gardens. Because they make me happy.

So far, so good. But simply planting and allowing them to grow is not enough. If I want the gardens to be healthy and beautiful, I need to tend to them. I need to be aware of what is growing and where it’s located. Some show up willy-nilly and take over the area.  As the gardener, my role is to question and determine if I am okay with that. If I am, I can do nothing and allow it to happen. If I want to maintain boundaries but still maintain the plant that I need to take suitable action. Are the plants healthy? Do they need a bit of water or fertilizer? Are there pesky weeds showing up?

The first thing I need to do is to be aware of what is happening in my garden.  No judgment, simple evaluation, and acknowledgment of what is happening. Only then can I take the appropriate steps to keep my garden as beautiful and healthy as I prefer.

If our mind is a garden, then our thoughts are the flowers and bushes within.

As we move through our day we have various experiences which prompt all sort of different thoughts. Some are creative, fun or helpful. Others may be harsh, unkind or hurtful. Perhaps a thought is taking over, becoming invasive and making it difficult to focus. Noticing our thoughts – not making ourselves wrong for having them – but simply becoming aware of what we are thinking is our first step to tending to the garden of our mind.

When we are aware of what we are thinking, we can decide what actions to take. Is the thought pleasing, would we like more of it? If so, go ahead and feed it! Is it hurtful? If so, do you need to feel that hurt in order to process it or is it better for you to let it go? Even acknowledging that a thought does not serve you is a powerful step to releasing it.

Notice. Be aware. And always remember, that you are the expert on you. That makes you the Master Gardener of your mind.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

Who are You Now? How do You Identify Yourself?

A few days ago I was thinking about how we introduce ourselves to others. I began thinking about some identifying aspects of myself.

– Amateur Gardener
– Bacon Lover
– Short Woman

Now here’s the thing, each of these things is true. They are facets of me, but they are not the primary way that I identify myself. In my own head or when I’m speaking with others.

When one is experiencing grief, it’s not only common but quite reasonable that at least in the beginning, that feeling, what they feel they have lost becomes their primary focus. Depending on how deep the wound, it may be the only thing they are able to think about, talk about or feel for a time. That’s natural and normal.

Having said that, I want to acknowledge that we are not our wound. Regardless of how painful the loss of my son, I was always Sandy. Some of the aspects of my being had certainly changed, but there were so very many that remained. I was still a wife, a mom, daughter, friend, etc.

Human beings are marvelously multi-faceted being. This is not about ignoring the wound that brings on grief or denying that it is a part of you – not all of you. It is about trusting that in time, with safe, healthy grief work, you will once again shift from identifying yourself with as your wound to a person that has been wounded and is healing.

I am not Suicide Loss, I am Sandy.  That’s what you will always read on my name tag. How are you identifying yourself?

Namaste,
Sandy

Period or Ellipsis?

Facts can be funny things. Some are truly universal. The sun is hot! Yep, that’s true for you and me as well. But other facts are not necessarily true for both you and me… unless they are. Oh boy, here we go already.

For instance. I read and hear many experts give guidelines of what to say to someone who is grieving They frequently also offer very specific guidelines about what not to say to someone who is experiencing grief. I appreciate and find value in these guidelines, but what if they are not helpful for everyone? Is it possible that what feels supportive for one may not be for another? Put on your pondering cap, and feel your way through.

Mistakes will be made, lessons will be learned. Life is like that. I try to remember that when something shares a fact as hard and fast, it is because to them it is indeed true. Period. End of sentence. I get that, but I also have found that hearing or reading some of these truths or what felt like rules to me was not always helpful but was in fact often confusing and even painful as I considered that if experts were telling me one thing and I was feeling different clearly the conclusion was that I was wrong. I was hurting in the wrong way. I was taking comfort from the wrong things. I was grieving and healing all wrong!

Wow, this was less than helpful. Very quickly, I began to read and listen in a new way. When someone would share a truth, a fact and end their sentence with a period, I would find myself hearing or imagine seeing an ellipsis… this gave me the freedom to find my own way. And to know that what is true for me, what is factual for me, may be different than it is for another.

Period. For me, this means non-negotiable, no flexibility, written in stone.
Ellipsis… ahhhh, what if this is true for some and not for others? This felt more supportive, more open to walking the path in my own way.

So if you hear me say something and it sounds like a fact, please know that it is factual for me. If it doesn’t sound or feel right for you, go ahead and add that ellipsis… and ask yourself, what if things look or feel different for me?

You and I are all walking this our own path of grief into healing. Even while we walk together, sometimes hand in hand, we continue to have our own unique experience.

Namaste,
Sandy